Yorktown Sentry

In Defense of Tom Wilson

Tom+Wilson+was+given+a+20+game+suspension+in+the+beginning+of+the+season.
Tom Wilson was given a 20 game suspension in the beginning of the season.

Tom Wilson was given a 20 game suspension in the beginning of the season.

Courtesy of SportingNews

Courtesy of SportingNews

Tom Wilson was given a 20 game suspension in the beginning of the season.

Charlie Schiavo, Sentry Business Manager

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As a fellow hockey player, I agree with the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Department of Player Safety’s (DOPS) decision to suspend Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson for his hit on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, 20 games is far too excessive an amount to be served. The arguments that the NHL DOPS uses to support his suspension and the general assumptions of Wilson’s harshest critics are seemingly concrete on the surface, but a deeper look will reveal that Wilson should not have been suspended for 20 games, and that he is much more than a predatory, headhunting player.

On Sept 30,  during a preseason game between the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues, Wilson delivered what head of NHL DOPS George Parros described as “an illegal hit to the head” on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. There is no denying that this specific hit was a suspendable offense. Wilson did make contact Sundqvist’s head, but it should be noted that Sundqvist was not only cutting to the middle of the ice, willingly exposing himself to open-ice hits, but he was looking down at the puck instead of up at the play around him- which would have allowed him to see Wilson coming. Additionally, Wilson made contact with Sundqvist’s shoulder, proof of which can be seen both on film and with the separated shoulder Sundqvist suffered as a result.

The most compelling argument that the DOPS makes against Wilson is that he is a repeat offender- this most recent suspension is Wilson’s fourth in the last 13 months. However, Wilson should not be considered as frequent of a repeat offender as the NHL DOPS designates him to be. Two of Wilson’s previous three suspensions were for hits that could be labeled as clean (his hit on Blues player Samuel Blais in the 2017 preseason is dirtier than this most recent one). In that same 2017 preseason, Wilson was suspended two games for a hit of Robert Thomas of- you guessed it- the St. Louis Blues. The DOPS ruled that the hit was illegal because it was delivered too long after Thomas lost possession of the puck, but Thomas did not get rid of the puck intentionally- he lost control as Wilson was setting himself up for the hit. Wilson delivers a “forceful body check” to the shoulder on Thomas- but it is clear that Wilson had intended to hit Thomas before he lost the puck. Had Wilson continued to move his feet towards Thomas in the moments before the hit, it would have made sense to suspend him for charging- but Wilson clearly slows down by gliding towards his target before the hit. If Wilson had lead with his elbow instead of his shoulder, he could have been suspended for elbowing- but he clearly lead with his shoulder, which is a legal way to hit, according to the NHL. Because of this, I do not think Wilson should have been suspended for this hit.

The other hit that Wilson should not have been suspended for was his hit on Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Wilson was suspended for an illegal hit to the head, but multiple angles reveal that Wilson was aiming for Aston-Reese’s shoulder, which was the initial and main point of contact for the hit. Shoulder-to-shoulder hits are, as I stated before, perfectly legal within the rules of gameplay for the NHL. Aston-Reese did end up suffering a concussion and a broken jaw as a result of the hit, but Wilson clearly targeted his shoulder- not his head.

Repeat offenders in the NHL get suspended for longer periods each time they are suspended within an 18-month period, so while a 20-game suspension for Wilson may seem fair at first glance, a significant portion of Wilson’s hits should not have gotten him suspended. Meanwhile, Boston Bruins player Brad Marchand has been reprimanded for elbowing and slew-footing, or tripping someone by using your feet, opposition players on numerous occasions, but he has never been suspended for more than five games- even though he has been suspended six times instead of Wilson’s four. All of Wilson’s suspensions have came as a result of him attempting to execute a central part of hockey- hitting- whereas elbows and slew foots cannot be executed legally at all within the rules of hockey. Wilson does need to be sent a message about his hits, but the unnecessarily excessive length of his suspension- and the upwards of 1 million dollars he will forfeit from his contract- is more fittingly delivered to someone who elbows people in the head.

Wilson’s reputation around the league as a dirty player sadly overshadows how good of a player he is. He uses his size and strength to create opportunities for his teammates- he totaled 35 points (14 goals and 21 assists) over 77 games during the 2017-18 NHL regular season, and he has been nicknamed by Capitals fans and writers as “bacon bits,” due to how he makes any line he plays on produce more offensively- just like how bacon bits can be sprinkled on anything to make it better. Tom Wilson is not purely a goon, and he is certainly not deserving of the ninth-longest suspension in NHL history. Either bring the hammer down on everybody equally, or do not bring it down at all. Free Willy.

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In Defense of Tom Wilson