The Washington Capitals will begin their season without forward Tom Wilson, who’s been suspended 20 games for his hit on St. Louis Blues centre Oskar Sundqvist.
Of course, calling it a “hit” is a bit of a stretch.
The incident took place on Sunday in the second period of pre-season action and the league hammered down the supplemental discipline Wednesday following an in-person hearing, which means the NHL can hand down suspensions of six games or more.
Wilson received a match penalty for the contact.
The 24-year-old is a Stanley Cup champion, having won the ultimate prize in sports with the Capitals last season. But rather than watching his team raise the banner in their home opener, he’ll be sitting out and rightly so.
Wilson is a repeat offender under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and that, without question, put more juice in this suspension.
In fact, ahead of the start of the 2018-2019 season, no NHL player had been penalized more than Wilson since he entered the league in 2013. Despite his young age, he’s already collected 806 penalty minutes – including around a dozen game misconducts. That doesn’t include post-season number, by the way.
During the 2018 playoffs, Wilson received attention from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on at least four different occasions. He was suspended once, in May of 2018, for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese.
Prior to that, Wilson had two suspensions in 2017 – one in the pre-season after he nailed Robert Thomas with a late hit.
That doesn’t count questionable incidents and fines, like his hit from behind to John Moore in December of 2016 or his knee-on-knee collision with Conor Sheary that got Wilson dinged a $2,900 fine.
This time, the Sundqvist hit will cost Wilson and that’s important. He’ll cough up $1,260,162.60 to the Players’ Emergency Fund, one of the biggest cash disciplines in the league’s recent history.
By delivering a big opening day suspension, it’s possible that the NHL is sending a message. Maybe this season will be different and the sorts of reckless plays associated with the likes of Tom Wilson will face harsher punishments.
Or maybe the 2018-2019 season will amount to more of the same inconsistency and confusion we’ve come to know and love. Time will tell.