Washington’s Tom Wilson keeps NHL’s Department of Player Safety busy

If it wasn’t for forward Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety might not have too much to do. Wilson was recently handed a 20-game suspension for his illegal blindside hit to the head on centre Oskar Sundqvist of the St. Louis Blues in the preseason and it’s his fourth suspension in his last 105 NHL contests. All of these bans have been handed down over the past 13 months and it looks like the repeat offender hasn’t learned his lesson yet. He’ll have to sit out close to a quarter of the 2018/19 regular season and will forfeit approximately $1.26 million in salary.

Last season the 24-year-old was suspended four games in the preseason, two games in the regular season and for three games in the playoffs. He arguably could have been suspended for his hit on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Alexander Wennberg last season as well, but the league looked the other way and the same could be said for his hit against Brian Dumoulin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. But with NHL players receiving concussions at an alarming rate these days, there’s definitely no room in the game for illegal hits to the head area.

It’s possible that Wilson finally gets the hint and changes his ways, but not likely. He served 187 minutes in penalties last season, which was the second most in the NHL, but also saw a lot of ice time on his team’s first line with star players Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. And with Washington winning the Stanley Cup for the first time, Wilson may see no reason to alter his headhunting style, especially since he chipped in with a respectable and career-high of 14 goals and 21 assists for 35 points in 78 games. He also racked up five goals and 10 assists in 21 postseason outings.

Wilson recently signed a new six-year contract in Washington worth just over $5 million a season so the suspension will hit him harder in the wallet this time around. It’s also the longest suspension for an on-ice hit since Raffi Torres was banned for 41 games back in 2015. Overall, Wilson has played 391 NHL contests since making his debut in 2012 and has spent 806 minutes in the penalty box. He’s scored a total of 35 goals and has been suspended for 29 games so far. Since entering the league, Wilson has led the NHL in penalty minutes and approximately 20 per cent (58) of his 255 regular-season penalty calls have been five-minute majors. He’s also receiver a match penalty and 11 misconducts.

Wilson and the NHL Players Association have announced they will be appealing the suspension to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and if they aren’t happy with the decision they can then appeal again to a neutral arbitrator. If the ban is upheld he won’t be eligible to play until Washington faces off against the Chicago Blackhawks on November 21st. But at 6-feet-4-inches tall and weighing in at 218 lbs, Wilson can cause a lot of damage on the ice. The Capitals’ first-round draft pick and 16th overall in 2012 has enough skill to survive in the league without crossing the line between clean and dirty hits. However, if the suspension is reduced he’s not likely to suddenly become a choir boy and play without reckless abandon. It’s also a good bet he’ll be suspended for a fifth time by the NHL before too long.

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