The Washington Capitals expect forward Tom Wilson to appeal his 20-game suspension issued by the NHL Department of Player Safety for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during the teams' preseason finale.
Wilson can appeal the suspension, but must do so within 48 hours of the time the decision was handed down Wednesday afternoon. That process will go through the NHL Players’ Association, not the team. In a statement, the players' union said it is “reviewing the supplemental discipline decision and will be discussing it further with the player.”
“I’m not going to be able to comment on that right now just because I believe Tom is going to go through an appeal process,” Coach Todd Reirden said after the Capitals' 7-0 season-opening win Wednesday over the Boston Bruins. “It wouldn’t be right for me to make any comments at this point just with where things are at.”
Wilson will have to provide a written notice of an appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman if he wants to begin the process. It’s highly unlikely Bettman would overturn the Department of Player Safety’s decision, but Wilson could then appeal to a neutral arbitrator. He would remain suspended during the appeals process in either case. The length of suspension — no player has been suspended so many games by the Department of Player Safety since Raffi Torres got 41 games in 2015 — is because it’s Wilson’s fourth instance of supplemental discipline in the past year.
Like Reirden, Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin said he expects Wilson to appeal.
"It’s hard to talk right now because I don’t want to be the guy who is going to step, but I think it’s too much,” Ovechkin said.
If the appeal does not get overturned, Wilson will serve his 20-game ban and not be available to play until the Capitals’ Nov. 21 game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Regardless, he will be able to practice and travel with the team.
“Honestly, I think it is garbage, if I’m going to be honest,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “We watched a video from the league saying what hits are good and what aren’t. They showed some hits way worse than that, maybe not in force, but in regards to the head that were so-called allowed, and I guess he just had a different rule book. It’s garbage, honestly.”
Wilson was able to be with the team at Capital One Arena for the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony before the team’s game against the Bruins. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound top-line right winger skated onto the ice in a Capitals jersey alongside his teammates, and he was greeted with a raucous ovation. Later in the third period, fans chanted, “Free Tom Wilson.”
Capitals forward T.J. Oshie found out about Wilson’s suspension when he first walked into the locker room at the arena at 5 p.m. He immediately texted Wilson, and when he arrived to the arena, Oshie embraced him.
"I went and gave him a hug and said, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Oshie said. “It’s unfortunate. He wants to be out here with us. He earned a nice contract and now he’s losing a quarter of that. That’s too bad. We’re going to miss him. We’re going to miss him a lot out there, but he’ll be around.”
Based on Wilson’s average annual value, he will forfeit $1.26 million because of the suspension.
“At least Tom’s play was on the ice and he was hitting the guy that had the puck milliseconds before,” Oshie said, while pointing to Bruins forward Brad Marchand’s fight with Capitals center Lars Eller, who did not want to drop gloves, during the third period of Wednesday night’s game.
"And then you see tonight the sucker punches that Lars took in. So they kind of set the standard. Marchand has a history [with the Department of Player Safety], and we trust that they’ll do what they’re supposed to do and take care of business.”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said he believes the suspension was “unfair."
“I think everybody probably knows how we feel about it in our room and you know it is a tough thing because we don’t agree on it, but you know it is tougher for Tom,” Holtby said. “The biggest thing is that we have to support him through this . . . It is not what [the Department of Player Safety] told us when they came around and told us what was fair and what wasn’t so you know, we’ll move forward and support Tom.”
Wilson’s hard-hitting style of play has been met with scrutiny in the past. During last year’s preseason, Wilson was suspended twice for separate hits on members of the Blues. His first was a two-game ban for a late hit on forward Robert Thomas. The other was a four-game suspension at the start of the Capitals' regular season for boarding forward Sam Blais.
During the 2017-18 postseason, Wilson was suspended for three playoff games for an illegal check to the head of Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.
“They can’t just say, ‘Oh, because it’s him,’ " Smith-Pelly said. “If the hit is to the head, directly to the head, it is a suspension. I mean, just because it is him. I think we all feel that he went through [Sundqvist’s] shoulder; the guy has a separated shoulder. He went through his shoulder, just because it is him doesn’t mean you have to make a whatever statement or whatever. I mean I don’t want to say anything too crazy, but it’s garbage.”
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