Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended 20 games for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues winger Oskar Sundqvist.  The hit came early in the second period of the final preseason game for both the Capitals and Blues.



Wilson was given a match penalty for illegal check to the head by referees Furman South and Kyle Rehman.

“Wilson delivers a high, forceful hit which makes Sundqvist’s head the main point of contact on a play where such head contact was avoidable and causes an injury,” said the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. “This is an illegal check to the head.”

From NHL Rule 48.1, for Illegal Checks to the Head:

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted. In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered:

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

Wilson is clearly a repeat offender, in every sense of the phrase.

“This is Wilson’s fourth suspension in his last 105 games,” says the league’s video, “an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the history of the Department of Player Safety,”

Curiously, three of those suspensions came as a result of illegal hits on St. Louis Blues players.

“There are certain ways they are calling things,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said prior to the ruling, per the Washington Post. “You need to be aware of how they’re making their calls on suspensions. He’s a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact. … It’s an issue, obviously, but we are where we’re at. We’re just going to have to continually monitor how suspensions and hitting are being doled out and we’re going to have to adjust to it as an organization. We’ll also state our case on what we think is happening, too.”

Wilson’s 20-game ban is the longest suspension handed out for an on-ice incident since Calgary’s Dennis Wideman was suspended 20 games in 2016 for hitting linesman Don Henderson; Wideman’s ban was reduced to 10 games on appeal.  You’d have to go back to the 2015-16 preseason to find a longer suspension, when San Jose’s Raffi Torres was suspended 41 games for a hit to the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart weighed in on Wilson’s suspension.

I like a good, solid, legal body check as much as anyone, including open ice hits. However, I cannot abide reckless hits where the purpose is not to separate the recipient from the puck so much as it to separate him from his head. Wilson has done this sort of thing, over and over again in his career. There is no attempt to coach him to distinguish between a tough-but-legal hit and a dangerous-and-illegal one. Like it or hate it, there is no such thing anymore as a legal check where the head is targeted, arm tucked or not.

Along with Boston’s Brad Marchand, Wilson has entered the category of the Raffi Torres or Matt Cooke type of serial offender. Plain and simple, Wilson has to decide if he wants to be a hockey player or a kamikaze pilot.

I’m not optimistic that Wilson will learn a thing from the upcoming suspension.

He’ll have quite some time to think about it.  Wilson will be eligible to return to the Caps’ lineup on November 21, when they face the Chicago Blackhawks.

From the NHL:

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for 20 games, without pay, for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during NHL Preseason Game No. 106 in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Sept. 30, the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety announced today.

The incident occurred at 5:18 of the second period. Wilson was assessed a match penalty for illegal check to the head.

Wilson is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on his average annual salary, will forfeit $1,260,162.60. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.