Ovechkin called the rules that led to the suspension “kind of a joke.” Oshie said he has gotten “hit like that all the time.” Eller said the supplemental discipline Wilson received “doesn’t really add up, no.”
The consensus from the Capitals is Wilson’s high, hard check during their 5-1 loss in Boston did not warrant a suspension, nor was it intentional or egregious in nature. They also believe Wilson’s hit would not have drawn as much attention if Carlo had not been injured and if not for Wilson’s reputation.
Carlo, whose head smashed into the glass, was hospitalized Friday night and released Saturday, the Bruins said. He is considered week-to-week with an upper-body injury. No penalty was called on the play, and while the Capitals expressed concern for Carlo, they believe whether a player gets injured should not dictate whether there is supplemental discipline.
Wilson, who has seven goals and 10 assists in 21 games this season, decided Sunday not to appeal the suspension. He began serving it Sunday night when the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers, and he will be eligible to return March 20 against the New York Rangers. It is the fifth suspension of his career and his first since September 2018, when he was suspended 20 games for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during a preseason game. That penalty was reduced to 14 games on appeal.
Wilson’s teammates acknowledged the 26-year-old’s track record, but they still firmly believe Friday’s hit did not warrant such severe discipline.
“It’s been a long time since he’s done anything,” Oshie said. “He’s changed his game and done a really good job. So it’s tough, but I stand behind Tom and his intentions. I don’t think he was intending to hurt anybody, and I guess it’s the burden of being bigger and stronger than most guys.”
At the heart of the Capitals’ frustration is the NHL’s interpretation of its rules. Ovechkin said the referees told both teams after the first period Friday that they did not think the hit warranted any sort of penalty.
However, when the Department of Player Safety decided to offer Wilson an in-person hearing (via Zoom) to discuss the play — he opted to conduct the hearing via conference call instead — they evaluated his hit under the criteria of boarding.
According to league rules, boarding is defined as a player checking or pushing a “defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously.” In determining a seven-game suspension, the league defined Carlo as defenseless when Wilson “took advantage … with significant force.”
“While there are aspects of this hit that may skirt the line between suspendable and not suspendable, it is the totality of the circumstances that caused this play to merit supplemental discipline,” the league added in the Department of Player Safety’s video explanation of the suspension.
As Laviolette put it, what is causing the Capitals so much frustration is not so much the length of the suspension but rather whether the hit qualifies for a suspension at all based on past rulings on similar plays. Laviolette, who is in his 19th season as an NHL head coach, said Sunday that he believes Wilson’s suspension will “open things up to any hit that is forceful and impactful with a player that has the puck.”
“Now that it is a suspendable hit, it is something that we will try to talk to our players about and certainly educate a little bit,” Laviolette said. “Up until this point I think everybody thought hitting somebody square up with the puck was a hit that was in the game.”
By definition, he continued, most players are defenseless when they have the puck along the boards. The player routinely has to hang on to the puck, brace for a hit and make a play. Laviolette said he went back and studied hits in previous Capitals games this season and found at least three “powerful hits” along the boards that did not lead to supplemental discipline.
“I think everybody will have to adjust now,” Laviolette said. “Just go back and look at hits in the past. Pull up any video you want. And I’m not going to say, ‘Look at this one; look at that one.’ Just the way the game is played, it is a fast, violent game, and at times, players with the puck, they have a hard time being able to protect themselves maybe the way that they want to.”
A hit Ovechkin brought up Sunday was one on which New York Islanders center Leo Komarov was called for boarding against Eller during the Capitals’ 3-2 win Jan. 26. Komarov was assessed a five-minute major but received no supplemental discipline, even though Eller missed the next four games.
“I think the intention or what led up to the hit was in ways worse on me, because I was in a more vulnerable position facing the glass,” said Eller, who did not suffer a concussion on the play but said he “easily” could have. “That being said, I hope [Carlo] is going to be back playing soon and he’s okay. You never want to see a guy get injured. [But] again, to me, it doesn’t really add up.”
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