Thursday afternoon, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a 31-page statement upholding the 20-game suspension of Tom Wilson for his preseason hit on Oskar Sundqvist.
In the document, Bettman repeatedly mentions that he hopes Wilson uses this suspension as a “wake up call.” The commissioner also provides reasoning, that despite all of the interventions the NHL has provided, Wilson still does not understand the magnitude of his actions.
The points within the document that offer the most clarity of Bettman’s position are within the analysis section. I’ve broken out all of the important subsections for our own analysis.
Wilson keeps putting himself in dangerous hitting positions
Section VI, subsection 2I
The NHLPA stressed at several junctures during the appeal hearing its view that the evidence is clear that Mr. Wilson did not “intend to injure” Mr. Sundqvist, or to “target his head.” However, as the NHLPA well knows, Rule 48 no longer requires “intent” to support a finding that the Rule has been violated; indeed, the Rule was amended five (5) years ago to specifically delete language referring to the “targeting” of the head. … Players are constantly cautioned not to put themselves in the position of”missing” on “close hits” where the result could be (and very often is) an illegal check to the head. Mr. Wilson has seemingly and consistently refused to heed this warning.
Here, Bettman is discussing Rule 48, which explains that the head cannot be the principal point of contact on a hit.
The NHLPA argues that because this hit was accidental, Wilson cannot have been in violation of the rule. Bettman doesn’t see it that way because language was added to negate the targeting language, which means even if the hit is accidental, it’s problematic.
Bettman then explains that players are told to avoid positions where there could be head contact, and despite all this, Wilson continues to have hits that result in head contact.
DoPS met with Wilson repeatedly to no avail
Section VI, subsection E
Mr. Wilson’s four (4) recent suspensions for on-ice misconduct have been in rapid succession, whether considered in terms of games between incidents or in terms of calendar days. During this period, DPS has worked diligently to provide specific instruction to Mr. Wilson to assist him in understanding the appropriate confines of the Playing Rules. … Both in-person meetings with Mr. Wilson -first in Calgary and then again in Toronto-involved a comprehensive review of video featuring Mr. Wilson’s play and some of his checks that had caused DPS concern. Mr. Wilson’s involvement in yet another illegal and dangerous head check so soon after his August meeting with Mr. Parros strongly suggests to me that Mr. Wilson is “not getting the message,” and it reinforces my firm conviction that the lengthy suspension issued by DPS in this case was necessary and appropriate and supported by clear and convincing evidence.
In this section, Bettman explains the lengths to which DoPS head George Parros has gone to explain to Wilson how and why his hits are bad, and how he can change his game.
Parros flew to Calgary and Toronto to meet with Wilson to break down film on why his hits were dangerous and how he could change his game. Despite the meetings, Wilson continued to pursue dangerous hits, and Bettman believes Wilson does not understand that his hits are reckless and dangerous, so the suspension is necessary in order for him to “get the message.”
Bettman wants permanent change from Wilson
Mr. Wilson’s recent play has threatened the safety and well-being of opposing Players on too many occasions, despite prior discipline being assessed and despite the considerable efforts of DPS to counsel Mr. Wilson on how to play within the Rules.
One true and fundamental test of effective discipline is whether the discipline is of sufficient strength and impact that it has the effect of deterring the Player being disciplined from repeating the same or similar conduct in the future. By this standard, the supplementary discipline previously assessed to Mr. Wilson prior to this incident has clearly been ineffective in deterring his dangerously reckless play. Accordingly, I find that Mr. Parros’ decision to impose a significant suspension of longer duration than in prior incidents in this case was readily supported by the evidence and might, in fact, be the only effective way to deter Mr. Wilson’s future “bad conduct.” I hope that this decision will serve as an appropriate “wake-up call” to Mr. Wilson, causing him to reevaluate and make positive changes to his game.
This is where Bettman goes in on Wilson.
Despite all the warnings and help from DoPS, despite all the suspensions and fines, Wilson continues to deliver dangerous hits to opposing players, and Bettman has had enough. This suspensions goal is to permanently change the way Wilson plays.
“Can Wilson change the way he plays?” is a common refrain now that he’s received this 20 game suspension.
Brooks Orpik told the Athletic “he can’t completely change the way he plays or he won’t be effective.”
Wilson told the Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan that “he admitted he needed to be more careful, but he also wanted to hold on to that part of his game.”
Let’s be frank here. This is not a matter of can he change? Tom Wilson MUST change the way he plays, or the next suspension he gets will be harsher than this one, likely heading into 40-game territory. Agree with the NHL’s decision or not, this is Wilson’s final warning.
Bettman is pleading with Wilson to do so because, until this point, no punishment has been sufficient enough to change Wilson’s play.
Maybe, finally, this will be the punishment that does it.
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