The NHL Players' Association formally filed an appeal Friday on behalf of Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who was suspended 20 games by the Department of Player Safety Wednesday for an illegal check to the head of Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.
Wilson will remain suspended as the appeal process runs its course, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will hear the appeal. A date for that hearing has not been set, and once Bettman issues his decision, Wilson could then further appeal to a neutral arbitrator.
Bettman is unlikely to overturn the Department of Player Safety’s ruling — though he did reduce Raffi Torres’s 25-game suspension by four games in 2012 — so a second appeal is the expected course. In 2016, Dennis Wideman was suspended 20 games for abuse of an official, and a neutral arbitrator then reduced the ban to 10 games. The process took a month and a half, and Wideman had already served 19 games.
Wilson and the Capitals might benefit from a spread-out schedule; he’s not eligible to play until Nov. 21 against Chicago, so if the appeal is successful, he might be able to get back in the lineup sooner than expected. Possible financial reimbursement is significant, too. Based on the $5.17 million average annual value of Wilson’s contract, he is forfeiting $1.26 million as part of the suspension. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Washington officials privately suspected Wilson would be suspended roughly 10 games, but the Department of Player Safety described a fourth suspension in 105 games, including preseason and playoffs, as “an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the history of the Department of Player Safety,” which is what led to the harsh sentence.
He typically plays on the Capitals' top line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and captain Alex Ovechkin. He’s coming off a career season with 14 goals and 21 assists, which earned him a new six-year, $31 million deal, and his physical play has been a strong complement for skilled linemates. Right wing Brett Connolly skated in Wilson’s place in Washington’s first two games, and the Capitals also claimed 25-year-old forward Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers to boost the team’s forward depth.
While Wilson is suspended, he continues to take up a roster spot and count against the salary cap, which could put Washington in a bind, especially if injuries pile up. Center Travis Boyd is on long-term injured reserve, which cleared his $800,000 salary cap hit to give the Capitals more flexibility, and once defenseman Michal Kempny is activated off injured reserve, forward Jayson Megna probably will be put on waivers. That will leave the team with a 23-man active roster, including Wilson.