There have been nights when Tom Wilson has gone to bed and reflected on the hard hits he delivered in the game that day. Friday wasn’t one of those nights.
The Capitals power forward went to sleep without a second thought about anything he did on the ice but, when he woke up, there was a text message on his phone informing him that he had a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for interference.
On Saturday, Wilson was suspended for two preseason games for a hit on St. Louis’s Robert Thomas that was ruled to be late and forceful. Now that Wilson has a suspension on his record, he could face harsher discipline for illegal hits in the future, because he would be considered a repeat offender. But Wilson doesn’t intend to change the physical nature of his game, and the Capitals don’t want him to, either.
“I respect their decision, obviously,” Wilson said. “I was pretty frustrated with that, for how I play and the amount of hits that I deliver and for how good a body check it really was, and then [it was] tenths of a second late and interference. It’s a fast game, and it’s tough to make those decisions at that speed. At the end of the day, that’s what [the Department of Player Safety] is there for. They’re there to kind of slow it down and look at the plays after they happen. They’re trying to do whatever they can to make the game a safer place, and that was their decision.”
Said Coach Barry Trotz: “I don’t think I have to talk to Tom at all. I think he understands. We were all a little surprised that he got a couple games, but we’ll accept it. He’s got to adjust. … You don’t want to take all of his game away from him, just ’cause he’s one of the best at getting on people and getting the big hits and turning pucks over and getting people nervous because he’s coming in. He doesn’t want to take that out of his game; he just wants to understand his parameters and what the league is calling and looking for.”
Thomas wasn’t injured on the hit, and he scored two goals in the game. In a video explanation, the Department of Player Safety noted Wilson’s hit came more than a second after Thomas lost control of the puck and was eligible to be checked. “The predatory nature and force of the hit” elevated it to being worthy of a suspension, the league said. The hit wasn’t penalized during the game.
Wilson is the first player to be suspended this season, and he’s also the first suspension under new player safety head George Parros. Wilson said it can be a “learning experience” and that he’s open to the league’s feedback, but he was frustrated by the decision. Wilson has been Washington’s leader in hits for the past two seasons.
“The way I looked at it was, there was no intent to injure; it was a good, hard hit,” Wilson said. “I didn’t run a guy from behind. I did everything I could to get around the guy and finish the space in front of him. I didn’t blindside him. I didn’t hit him from behind. … This is a good body check that’s a little bit late, and I understand that’s not within the rules. I got disciplined for it, and I’ve got to finish my checks quicker. I’m fast enough that I can get to players in enough time to finish the check, and if it’s not there, then I have to pass up on the hit.”
This was the first suspension of Wilson’s career, which is entering its fifth season, and the loss of preseason games doesn’t hurt him or the Capitals much, considering he’s a lock to make the roster. Wilson is expected to move into a bigger role this season, potentially playing among the top six forwards, so the suspension could limit his opportunities to establish himself in that way.
He served the first game of the suspension Saturday, meaning the earliest he can return to the lineup is Friday’s game at Carolina. But don’t expect him to stop hitting.
“To me, I checked off 10 boxes on why that’s a clean body check, and there’s maybe one box that it was a little bit late,” Wilson said. “That’s my job: I go out there, and I create energy for the team.”
More on the Capitals: