Moments before Capitals officials and Tom Wilson sat down for the rookie’s disciplinary phone hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Thursday afternoon, Coach Adam Oates remained steadfast in defense of the winger’s hit on Flyers center Brayden Schenn.
“To me, Schenn saw Willy and had every opportunity to resist the hit. It’s not a dirty hit, nothing [to] the numbers, no elevation,” Oates said. “The kid chose to try and spin out — wrong choice. To me it’s a total clean hit.”
Whether Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, will see it the same way, though, remains to be seen. The league is expected to announce its disciplinary ruling later in the day Thursday.
Late in the second period of Washington’s 5-2 loss in Philadelphia Tuesday, Wilson skated half the length of the ice from the visitors’ bench, entered the offensive zone at speed and delivered a charging hit that sent Schenn crashing into the end boards.
Despite being knocked out of the game, Schenn managed to avoid any significant harm and is expected to play for the Flyers Thursday night as they face Columbus. Wilson is a first-time offender at the NHL level but was suspended for five games in the OHL last year for a hit from behind.
Schenn turned at the last second and put himself in a more vulnerable position on the hit. Oates believes that the Flyers center could have better protected himself and doesn’t fault Wilson for finishing the check.
“To me, one of his strengths as a player is his ability to skate and hit someone. Not every guy can skate and hit. Some guys have to slow down to hit; he can hit through guys. Ovi hits through guys; Ovi hit Schenn the game before,” Oates said. Wilson “went across the ice, he slowed down in case the puck went up the boards and then he just took two strides and caught the guy right. The player had every opportunity to resist the hit and he chose not to.”
Alex Ovechkin, who has the capability to hit players at speed in the same manner, also reiterated that he didn’t think Wilson’s play on Schenn was a bad hit but a case of the 6-foot-4, 210 pound rookie overwhelming his 6-1, 190 pound opponent.
“I don’t think it was bad hit. Sometimes you see bad hit and you just think it has to be suspension. That hit was clean; he just outmuscled him,” Ovechkin said. “Just a situation when one guy hit another guy and cleanly, and he just can’t handle it.”
To Oates, Schenn shouldn’t have even been trying to make the play down below the goal line when Wilson made contact.
“Quite honestly, if I was going to take it another step further, he’s a left shot centerman. Why are you taking the puck and exposing it to the middle?” Oates said. “You should chip that up the boards. That’s what your job is. He chose to chip it towards the net, that’s an incorrect play, in my book.”