When the Tom Wilson suspension was handed down on Wednesday, Capitals fans met the news with anger, frustration, surprise, disapointment and, most of all, confusion. A 20-game suspension to a top-line player certainly carries a lot of implications and fans have a lot of questions.
Let’s break the suspension down piece by piece.
Why was Tom Wilson suspended?
The suspension was for Wilson’s hit of St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist in Sunday’s preseason finale. The Department of Player Safety broke down its reasoning in its explainer video released when the suspension was announced. The DoPS determined the head was the principal point of contact, the hit was avoidable and it caused an injury. That made it worthy of a suspension.
How much money will the suspension cost Tom Wilson?
I have seen a few different numbers out there, but the general answer is about $1.2 million.
As a repeat offender, the amount of money Wilson will lose is based on the number of games in a season. This means he will be losing 20/82nds of his average salary.
According to Cap Friendly, Wilson’s average salary is $5,166,666 per year. By my calculation, that means Wilson will be forfeiting $1,260,162.44.
The interesting thing to note is that Wilson’s base salary is only $1.1 million this year as he received a $5 million signing bonus. That means Wilson is actually losing more money than he is making during the season. I must admit, I do not know if that means Wilson will have to pay money back or how that works exactly.
The money that Wilson forfeits goes to the NHL Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
What happens to his cap hit?
This part really stings. Wilson’s cap hit will remain on the team’s payroll. This wasn’t a major issue in past years, but Wilson signed a big new contract with a big new cap hit to go with it in the summer. That means Wilson’s salary will essentially be dead space for the length of his suspension, making it that much harder to replace him.
In addition, Wilson still counts towards the team’s 23-player maximum.
This was really harsh, right?
I was in the media room at Capital One Arena when the news came out. Of the people there, all of the media was pretty shocked at the length of the suspension. I also spoke with someone from the Capitals organization on Sunday and he believed the suspension would be eight games.
Granted, the Caps claimed Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers earlier in the week so perhaps the team realized a longer suspension was coming, but initially at least, it seems like the team was not expecting it to be quite so long.
The last time a player was assessed a suspension of 20 or more games for an incident that happened during a game was Dennis Wideman when he checked a referee from behind on Jan. 27, 2016.
So yes, this was harsh.
Why was it so harsh?
This line from the explainer video is the most telling, “This hit on Sundqvist occurred in only [Wilson’s] 16th game since his last suspension which was also for an illegal check to the head. In short, including preseason and postseason games played, this is Wilson’s fourth suspension in his last 105 games, an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the history of the Department of Player Safety.”
The NHL is sending a clear message to Wilson that he needs to change his game or else these suspension will continue to get longer.
Can Tom Wilson appeal his suspension?
Yes. Wilson has 48 hours from the ruling to appeal to the Commissioner. After that, he can appeal to a neutral arbitrator.
Players remain suspended through the appeal process.
Will Tom Wilson appeal his suspension?
Yes. Todd Reirden told reporters Thursday that Wilson would appeal the suspension.
What are the chances the appeal is successful?
That depends on what you mean by successful. I mentioned the Wideman suspension above. Wideman took his suspension all the way to a neutral arbitrator. The arbitrator reduced the suspension to 10 games…but Wideman had already served 19 of the original 20.
Because of the length of the process, an appeal may not ultimately mean that much.
One other thing to note, appealing is somewhat of a gamble because the commissioner and the arbitrator are not simply determining if the suspension should be shorter. They could, in fact, determine the suspension should be longer.
What will the Capitals do without Tom Wilson?
Good question. Brett Connolly was on the top line in the opener so he will get a chance to stick around in that spot. The team also added Jaskin off waivers for depth. I would expect him to be a regular in the lineup once he gets up to speed with his new team.
Does Tom Wilson need to change his game?
Yes. Whatever you may think of the 20-game suspension, the message has been sent. The NHL is telling him to change his game. Knowing what is on the line, if Wilson does anything close to suspension worthy again, that’s on him. He has to fundamentally change his game or face even harsher punishment.
How can Tom Wilson change his game?
There is still room for some physicality in Wilson’s game, it just will require a mental reset. Three of Wilson’s suspensions stem from preseason incidents. Those are avoidable. There is no reason why Wilson should be running roughshod on anyone during meaningless games.
The hit to Zach Aston-Reese came as Wilson was on his way to the bench. When he saw Aston-Reese coming, instead of just hopping onto the bench, he turned and hit him.
Wilson can still drop the gloves when needed, he can still get involved in scrums, but until he learns how to hit a player legally, those big hits we’ve become accustomed to have to get out of his game.
Alex Ovechkin was able to do it after he was suspended three games in 2012 for a hit to Zbynek Michalek.
But he’s so big! It’s unfair to hold him responsible for head shots when he’s so much bigger!
Wilson stands at 6-4, while Sundqvist comes in at 6-3. Sorry, that argument just doesn’t hold water.
Bruins' defenseman Zdeno Chara is 6-9 and somehow manages to not get suspended all the time for head shots.
But we don’t want Tom Wilson to lose his physicality. That’s what makes him so valuable!
You can not like it all you want, but the NHL is telling Wilson not to be that player anymore and neither he nor the Caps can afford for him to continue to be that guy. The next suspension is going to be even longer. That’s even more time the Caps will have to adjust to having Wilson’s cap hit as dead space.
If Wilson does not adjust his game, he will no longer be an asset for the Caps, he will be a liability.
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