Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford published one of her “big read” articles on Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson on Sunday. The article gives context behind Wilson’s growth as a player over the last few years and could serve as an image rehabilitation for the first-line forward in markets outside of DC.
Wilson became a pariah to many general NHL fans after being suspended four different times in a little over a year between 2017 and 2018. After being banned 20 games for an illegal hit to the head of Oskar Sundqvist (Wilson served 16 games; it was eventually reduced to 14 by an arbitrator), Gary Bettman went on the record and said that he hoped that one of the largest suspensions in NHL history would serve as a “wake-up call” for Wilson. The first-line forward is so hated around the league he has received death threats.
When asked about Wilson’s previous suspensions and his unpopularity around the league, TJ Oshie, one of Wilson’s biggest public defenders, ripped the NHL.
“I think he’s drawn the short end of the stick on a bunch of suspensions and they’ve been trying to make an example out of him for a while now,” TJ Oshie said to Rutherford. “I think he’s gotten real unlucky because he’s a lot bigger than people. I know I get elbowed in the head all the time by guys, but they don’t seem to get in trouble for it. The league has kind of made Tom out to be some bad guy, so I blame them for that.”
This isn’t the first time Oshie has gone to bat for Wilson. During the Capitals 2018 Stanley Cup run, Wilson was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head of Zach Aston-Reese that left the Penguins player with a broken jaw and concussion. Oshie defended Wilson in the locker room.
“The boys are fired up,” TJ Oshie said “We had a sense of confidence. I think any arrogance that could have [come] from our last couple of victories has been squashed from the fact that we’re losing Tom [Wilson]. He’s been taken away from us for a couple of games. We’re fired up to play and we want to win the game for him.”
As for how Oshie felt about Wilson’s suspension, specifically the three-game ban, he told The Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga, “There was no penalty. The discipline, I think it’s pretty extreme. I think it’s very extreme, actually.”
Over the last years, Oshie has also absorbed many borderline/dirty hits that have left him injured. And the players who threw them have not been suspended. During last year’s postseason, Oshie had his collarbone fractured by Warren Foegele after an awkward hit into the boards.
In December 2017, Oshie was butt-checked by future Hall of Fame player Joe Thornton in the head, causing the Caps’ star forward to miss six games with his fourth-documented concussion. Oshie was later fined two months later for a cross-check to Kris Letang after getting sucker punched by the Penguins defenseman. Letang was not given supplemental discipline by the NHL. Oshie responded by criticizing the NHL’s inconsistency.
“It’s hard to figure out what you’re going to be fined or suspended for and what you’re not,” Oshie said then. “I don’t want to get my emotions too much into it. I got a concussion over a month ago after I got hit. I don’t know what the norm is. You get like 0.8 seconds or something? I got hit close to four seconds after I had the puck. Not only that, I got a concussion on the play and I was out.
“It seems like (the discipline) really depends on who the hitter is, how many games they’ve played, and who they play for,” Oshie said.
In Rutherford’s article, Oshie believes that Wilson has laid off many hits he’d previously throw and has changed his game due to the NHL’s discipline. Ultimately, he believes it’s bad for both players and the game at large.
“He’s found how he has to play to keep people focused on him playing hockey and not him hitting or getting suspended,” Oshie said. “There’s a lot of guys he could have hit this year and last year that he just doesn’t, and that’s probably a problem for that guy because he didn’t get to learn the lesson that you can’t go down the middle of the ice with your head down. That’s kind of the way the league’s trending, these guys that are fast and no one can ever hit them. Well, now you’ve got a guy like Tom, who’s faster or as fast as them, who’s bigger and stronger, and these guys don’t know how to protect themselves.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong
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