Last week, upon Tom Wilson‘s return from what was effectively a 16-game suspension for injuring Oskar Sundqvist, his fourth suspension in roughly a year, I published a story in which I tried to articulate the moment with a bit of theatricality. It’s my belief that any argument about Tom Wilson’s value as a player gets obscured by his dangerous hits, which have escalated in severity and frequency in the last year.
Now that he’s back, Wilson, in an interview with Chris Kuc of the Athletic, admits that he must be smarter about his hits.
I expect that phrase to become a common refrain: the solution to Wilson’s problems is for him to play smarter. Wilson is right about this. He’s been right about this for a long time.
“There was a couple big hits on the shift, emotions were high. I honestly don’t – I had no intention of going over and taking a penalty,” Wilson said. “I barely bumped into him. The ref felt otherwise. It’s dumb on my part I shouldn’t be going in there at all. I should try and avoid that.
Wilson said that the coaching staff has been working with him to identify ways to keep the physicality in his game, but make smarter plays to help limit the trips he makes to the penalty box.
“Obviously, I have to be a little bit more careful these days when I’m going into scrums. I’m not dumb and I have been hearing what they’re saying and I’ve been seeing what the refs have been calling. I’ve been seeing that other teams are complaining. I hear about that stuff, and it’s tough to kind of go out there and play the fastest game on earth with that in the back of your head.”
“Every team still has tough guys on it,” Wilson said. “It’s not that there’s no tough guys left. It’s that the tough guys are playing more and being smarter about taking penalties. There’s been pretty strict instigator rules applied by the NHL, so if you’re not careful and you start a fight, you end up getting an extra two minutes, and it puts your team down.
“You look at that and you see Wilson versus Kadri,” Wilson said. “Kadri is known as a pest around the league, but he scores lots of goals and stuff. If the ref has to choose one to give the extra minor to, they’re probably going to choose me. I’ve just got to be smarter.”
“He was in control,” Trotz said. “I think different situations will present themselves differently. He’s matured. He’s learned from every experience. He’s now in his second playoff series here – actually, would be his third. I think everybody has a really good understanding of how you have to be disciplined and be smart. You have to keep your emotions in check and play between the whistles.”
“I’m often kind of just buzzing around and if you’re skating as fast as you can all the time you miss some opportunities for when the puck is gonna come, so just being a more mature player, and developing your game, and being smarter about it.”
“I don’t want to be just a physical player,” Wilson said. “I want to be able to use that as a tool, make the defense know I’m there on the ice so I can use that. They’re expecting me to finish my check. They know I’m going to finish my check. That creates space for other guys. If I can go in, they’re expecting me to hit them, maybe I can use that and take the puck. Just using a variety of different methods and just being hard, and hard on the forecheck and smart, is going be what I’m trying to do for my game.”
“You’ve got to be smarter,” said Capitals forward Tom Wilson, who took a foolish penalty that led to Columbus’s first comeback. “That’s playoff hockey, that’s what it’s all about is momentum and not giving the other team life in crucial moments of the game.”
“I’ve got to be a lot smarter. I’ve got to walk that line, play aggressive, and be effective for this team. I can’t be in the box.”
“You don’t necessarily make as many big hits if you’re playing 19, 20 minutes,” Wilson said. “That physical part of my game is always going to be there. That’s the nature of who I am, that’s how I play the game. I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me, but I have to be smart about it.”
Around here, the image we need to remember is the door to the penalty box swinging open, and some Capital — Tom Wilson springs to mind — skating sheepishly, all alone, back to his own bench, perhaps in search of a dunce cap. The Columbus Blue Jackets are down the ice, celebrating. And the Capitals are wondering how and when and why they became so daft.
“I think lots has changed in the league since the time I’ve played and even in the last five years in terms of things players are doing to protect themselves and not protect themselves when they have the puck,” Reirden said. “That’s what makes it a tough one for me because the player has the puck and [Wilson] comes into the defensive zone and systematically being in position that incident occurs. That’s out of my hands now and it’s up to the league and we’ll go from there.”
Reirden added, “I don’t really comment any further on if it was smart or not.”
“I can talk a little bit more in depth once this is all over with, but yeah, for sure,” Wilson said. “The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there and I’ve got to play within the rules.
“The biggest thing is, there are going to be hits that I have to avoid at full speed,” Wilson said. “I can skate, I’m a big body out there and the rink is not getting any bigger. Those full-speed hits, I have to avoid those a little bit more because you’re talking about inches. An inch difference at full speed happens pretty quick. It’s just giving a little bit better odds, playing hard and fast but in the right areas of the ice, and just being a little smarter when I decide to try and execute a hit.
I quoted a lot of articles in this piece, but most came from Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post. Her Caps coverage is indispensable, and I hope you’ll join us in supporting it by subscribing to the Post.
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