As forward Tom Wilson made his way down the tunnel to the Washington Capitals’ locker room in Capital One Arena, he kept glancing back at the video board, hoping to see a replay of the hit that had just gotten him ejected from Sunday’s preseason game. St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist was still down, his face pressed against the ice. He did not return.
“He is definitely hurt, and obviously he hasn’t seen a doctor yet, but I would be surprised if he didn’t miss a decent amount of time here,” Blues Coach Mike Yeo said. “Let’s say he’s got a couple upper-body injuries. He’s in a bad spot right now. I feel bad for him.”
Wilson was assessed a match penalty after his shoulder appeared to collide with Sundqvist’s head at center ice in the second period of the Capitals' preseason finale, a 5-2 victory. Wilson now will be thrust back into the player-safety spotlight, just days before opening night Wednesday against the visiting Boston Bruins.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has offered Wilson an in-person hearing, a requirement in order to suspend him at least six games. The date and time of the hearing has not been set, and Wilson can decline his right to appear. It’s rare that a hearing doesn’t result in a suspension.
Dating from the 2017-18 preseason, Wilson has been suspended three times in the past year.
Wilson was suspended twice last preseason for two different hits in exhibition games against the Blues, the second of which cost him the first four games of the regular season. He was suspended three playoff games for a hit on Zach Aston-Reese in the second round that broke the Pittsburgh Penguins forward’s jaw. Given that history, Wilson is considered a repeat offender, which could lead to harsher discipline.
“It was predatory, and that is what he’s done, and he’s done that against us, so that’s the way he plays the game,” Yeo said. “We’ll see what the league does.”
The Capitals did not make Wilson available to the media after the game.
“Obviously it’s going to be a league review and something that’s out of our hands,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “He’s coming back into the defensive zone and into position, and the player cuts back into him. It’s a tough one, and I know the league will be looking into it.”
The NHL first will analyze whether the head was the main point of contact on the hit, and a person familiar with the league’s thinking indicated the verdict on supplemental discipline will primarily hinge on that question. The direction a player’s head snaps in relation to his body is often scrutinized in those scenarios. While it was clear there was head contact on the collision, the department emphasizes that it must be the main point of contact for a hit to rise to the level of being worthy of a suspension. It also has to determine whether the head contact was avoidable.
“It’s tough,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “You never want to see that. I think [Sundqvist], cutting across the middle, didn’t know [Wilson] was coming. I think with Willy, he backchecks so hard, he’s always coming back, you’ve always got to be aware when he’s on the ice. I don’t know; those are tough. Obviously, he’s a big, strong player who can do that. He’s trying to find that fine line between it being legal and illegal. . . . Hopefully there’s no extra [discipline], but that’s the nature of the business with him. He’s always got to be careful with how he’s hitting.”
Wilson was penciled in to start the season on the top line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and left wing Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals signed him to a six-year, $31 million extension in July after he had a career-high 14 goals and 21 assists in 78 games before adding five goals and 10 assists in 21 playoff matchups. His physical play clears space for his linemates while also making him a menace on the forecheck, but it can be argued that he should have exercised more caution in a preseason setting Sunday.
The Capitals' deadline to trim the roster to 23 players is 5 p.m. Tuesday, and a possible suspension for Wilson could significantly affect their plans. Washington is already down one forward: Travis Boyd, who had been vying to be the fourth-line center, is considered “week-to-week” with a lower-body injury, and he has been wearing a walking boot on his left foot. Defenseman Michal Kempny has a concussion, and while he’s day-to-day, he hasn’t practiced since Tuesday, making it unlikely he plays in the season opener.
Washington still has two extra forwards on the roster — Nathan Walker and Jayson Megna — and the Capitals were expected to put Boyd on injured reserve so they would have the roster space to keep one of those two around, in addition to an extra defenseman while Kempny remains out. But if Wilson is also sidelined, the team might have to move Kempny to injured reserve to be able to keep both Megna and Walker around to start the season.
Samantha Pell contributed to this report.
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