Tom Wilson avoided being suspended for starting a line brawl against the New York Rangers on Monday, but he wasn’t so lucky earlier in the season.
In March 2021, Wilson was suspended for seven games for a hit he made on Brandon Carlo that sent the Bruins defenseman to the hospital. It was the fifth time Wilson had been suspended by the Department of Player Safety in his career.
The Capitals believed (strongly) that the hit was legal; Wilson’s supplemental discipline marked the first time in NHL history a player was suspended for boarding on a hit that wasn’t from behind. “On the ice, even the ref said like ‘it’s not two minutes. It’s a [clean] hit’ and the guy gets seven games,” Alex Ovechkin said.
In an unusually broad explainer video, DoPS reasoned that the “totality of circumstances” surrounding the Carlo hit required Wilson to be suspended seven games.
Now we’re learning more context surrounding that suspension, which seems to explain why Wilson’s punishment was so severe.
In a column ($) published by The Athletic entitled ‘It’s a joke’: NHL leaves the New York Rangers to police Tom Wilson themselves, but what can they really do?, Rick Carpiniello criticizes the head of player safety, George Parros, by revealing that the DoPS leader didn’t think Wilson’s hit on Carlo was worthy of a suspension.
Parros, we’ve heard, didn’t even want to suspend Wilson for the brain-damaging assault on Boston’s Brandon Carlo, who suffered mood changes and blurry vision from his concussion after being hospitalized by Wilson in March. Bettman didn’t like the optics and ordered a suspension. So Wilson got seven games.
Carpiniello concluded that the decision-making process was “absurd” when considering that Wilson wasn’t classified a repeat offender (despite his previous four suspensions) because 18 months had elapsed since his last bad hit.
Carpiniello’s report suggests that, at least in this situation, the NHL was less focused on handing out even punishment and more focused on message-sending and PR.
The story jibes with previous reporting from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman who suggested that the only reason why Wilson was suspended was because it was Tom who delivered the hit.
“I did have a lot of people say to me that if this was anyone other than number 43 on the Capitals nobody would even be talking about this,” Friedman said. “Nobody would be. If this was a hit anyone else delivered, it wouldn’t be a penalty or a suspension a lot of people felt. But that’s what happens when you have the history. All of a sudden people look at you differently. You don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Name 400 other players in the league, if they throw that hit, they get nothing. But, because of his history that is what happens in this case.”
Friedman hypothesized that DoPS went through the rule book to find a rule that figuratively matched the crime.
In 2018, Wilson was suspended 20 games by the NHL for a headshot to Oskar Sundqvist. Wilson appealed the decision to Gary Bettman. In Bettman’s 31-page decision not to reduce the suspension, the commissioner wrote that he hoped the supplemental discipline would serve as a “wake-up call” for the Capitals forward.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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