PITTSBURGH—Capitals winger Tom Wilson has been suspended three playoff games by the NHL for an illegal check to the head of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 of the teams’ second-round series, the league announced Wednesday evening.
Aston-Reese, a rookie, suffered a broken jaw and a concussion in the second period collision. Aston-Reese did not return to the game and is presumably done for the playoffs; no penalty was called on the play, even after a lengthy discussion by the four officials on the ice.
In its announcement of the suspension, the NHL gave three primary reasons for the suspension:
- Aston-Reese’s head was the primary point of contact and the contact was deemed avoidable.
- The hit resulted in injury.
- Wilson is a repeat offender.
The suspension is the third for Wilson, who has always played an edgy game but had largely avoided the league’s wrath until this earlier season. In the preseason, he was banned two exhibition games for a late hit. Then, later in the preseason, he was suspended for the first four games of the regular season, again for an illegal hit, this one a boarding infraction. Wilson was also fined for kneeing Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary in 2016.
Without Wilson, Caps Coach Barry Trotz figures to shuffle his forward lines and fill the void by turning to either Travis Boyd, Shane Gersich or Nathan Walker. None has played an NHL playoff game. In fact, they’ve got a grand total of 20 regular season games under their belts.
As for Wilson, he’ll be eligible to return for Game 7, if the series requires it.
While we are not privy to the details of the phone hearing between Wilson and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, you can bet that the difference in size between the players was offered by Wilson as a defense for the hit. Wilson is 6 foot 4, 218-pounds, while Aston-Reese is 6-foot, 204.
Prior to the NHL’s announcement, Caps coach Barry Trotz once again defended Wilson’s hit, saying, “To me, it looked like body on body. We’ve stopped it. We’ve looked at it. There’s pictures all over the internet that you can see. He doesn’t leave his feet. He’s body-on-body.”
“He doesn’t leave his feet. He’s body-on-body.” — #Caps Coach Barry Trotz on the Tom Wilson hit as everyone awaits a decision from the league. #CapsPens #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/XeGqa7SmLS— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) May 2, 2018
The Caps held an optional practice on Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena and Wilson did not participate, meaning he was not obligated to speak to the media.
Fellow winger Brett Connolly, however, did address reporters and said that he suspects his teammate’s reputation for playing on the edge and making controversial hits affects how he’s judged.
“He’s a guy that hovers on that line,” Connolly said. “He’s trying to make his hits clean. He’s doing a good job. It’s tough.”
Trotz also defended Wilson against accusations from some Penguins players that the power forward was smiling after injuring Aston-Reese. Trotz said Wilson smiled in response to a joke told to him by a teammate about the booing that was raining down on the Caps’ bench.
The Penguins were upset last night because Tom Wilson was smiling after the hit that injured Zach Aston-Reese. Today, Barry Trotz explained that Wilson was smiling about something that was said the #Caps’ bench, not the injured #Pens player. #CapsPens #ALLCAPS #StanleyCup pic.twitter.com/Q2IWoRQPaf— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) May 2, 2018
Video, in fact, would seem to back up Trotz’s assertion.
Wilson is fifth on the Caps in postseason points with seven (two goals, five assists) in nine games. Entering Wednesday’s games, the 24-year-old had been assessed a league-high seven minor penalties.