The Capitals were bracing for the loss of Tom Wilson and on Wednesday, those fears were realized.
The Department of Player Safety handed Wilson a 20-game suspension on Wednesday for his hit to the head of Oskar Sundqvist delivered in Sunday’s preseason finale.
The suspension will keep Wilson out of the lineup for Wednesday’s home opener and Stanley Cup banner ceremony.
This marks the fourth suspension of Wilson’s career. He will not be able to play for the Capitals until Nov. 21 when Washington hosts the Chicago Blackhawks.
Washington’s Tom Wilson suspended twenty games for an Illegal Check to the Head on St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist. https://t.co/ojQ4yN6oFN— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) October 3, 2018
The main issue that led to such a hefty suspension seems to be the frequency with which Wilson has been suspended in the past year.
According to the explainer video posted by the Department of Player Safety, "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."
Wilson was suspended in the 2017 preseason, for the first four games of the 2017-18 regular season and three games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wilson has not been made available to the media since the hit. Based on the severity of the suspension, an appeal seems likely.
Wilson’s teammates were quick to defend him after the game Sunday. Sundqvist cut to the middle of the ice in the offensive zone which led to the hit. A hit like the one Wilson delivered would have been expected 15 years ago every time a player made a similar move.
Can you imagine Scott Stevens, who delivered some of the biggest hits in NHL history, playing in today's NHL? How long would his suspension have been for the hit he delivered to Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final? Or what about his hit to Paul Kariya in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final? Neither hit earned Stevens a suspension. That certainly would not be the case today.
The culture has changed and the league has made it clear these hits are no longer acceptable today’s NHL. The onus is on Wilson to adjust to the league’s standards as is evident by the 20-game term of the suspension.
When a player is suspended, both he and his cap hit remain on the books for the team, making it all the more difficult for teams to replace that player. Wilson signed a six-year, $31 million contract in the offseason meaning the Caps will have to adjust with $5.16 million of essentially dead space on their books for almost a quarter of the regular season.
Wilson plays on the top line in Washington and he does it for a reason. He has found chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and he has the skill to provide offense as well (14 goals, 21 assists last season). When he was suspended three games in the playoffs for a hit to Pittsburgh forward Zach Aston-Reese, his absence was noticeable.
The NHL is telling Wilson to change the way he hits. It is up to him to listen or he with every suspension he will become more of a liability to Washington than an asset.
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