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No surprise: Bettman upholds Wilson’s 20-game suspension


In a decision that should surprise no one, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld the league’s 20-game suspension of Capitals forward Tom Wilson for his preseason hit on Oskar Sundqvist of the Blues.

This isn’t a dead end for the appeal process, as Wilson can now take his case to an independent arbitrator.

Again, these steps were more or less expected. Bettman’s explanation ended up filling 31 pages in a PDF (stemming from a reported seven-hour hearing), which ... while seeming ridiculous at first, actually feels pretty predictable when you consider how thorough Bettman can be.

The interesting parts come in the finer details about how this process works, and maybe just as fascinatingly, how the NHLPA approaches this situation.

Drawn-out process

It’s worth noting that Wilson’s hit happened on Sept. 30, while the suspension was announced on Oct. 3. Today is Oct. 25. That’s a lot of time elapsed, and this process isn’t even over with.

The Washington Capitals have already played eight games, while they’ll play their ninth on Thursday and 10th on Saturday. It will take time for Wilson’s case to come to that independent arbitrator, and this process can be especially protracted for suspensions that aren’t 20 games long. Perhaps this is something the players should address in the next CBA, as to some extent, this is as much about getting Wilson’s money back, rather than helping him suit up again as soon as possible.

NHLPA defends Wilson, but what about Sundqvist?

When it comes to hits and their aftermath, the NHLPA has - justifiably - been accused of going the extra mile for the hitters, while doing very little for the players who suffered the hits.

Such an argument could be advanced by this document, as the players union went far to defend Wilson, contending that the suspension should be reduced to eight games. One of many whoppers in that document included this comment about Wilson:

clean Wilson

Actually, eight games might have been a concession, based on this “primary” argument:


Interesting. More than a few people believe that Sundqvist was “thrown under the bus” in order to advance an argument in Wilson’s favor, and again, this really brings up some soul-searching questions for the NHLPA.


It all seems a bit absurd, but this process is ultimately deep in legalese.

Honestly, such methods actually distract from a generally understandable goal to protect players and reduce the amount of illegal, dangerous hits, as much as possible.

Whether this process accomplishes that or not, there are some funky steps in this process.

Overall, this is another reminder that it’s not just on NHL executives and officials to clean up the game. The players have a role in that, and if the NHLPA’s measures capture the culture and viewpoints of the majority of players, it sure seems like both sides have a lot of work to do in the bigger picture.

More directly, it appears that Wilson’s next step is to appeal to an independent arbitrator. PHT recently went over Bob McKenzie’s insight on that process here.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.