Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson just pulled a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card.
NHL Arbitrator Shyam Das has reduced Wilson’s 20-game suspension to a 14-game ban. Wilson is eligible to return to the Capitals’ lineup tonight, having already missed 16 games. He’ll also see a return of around $378k in forfeited salary.
Wilson was originally suspended 20 games for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during a preseason game. The NHL Department of Player Safety levied the lengthy ban due to the dangerous nature of the hit as well as Wilson’s history. The Washington forward had been suspended three times prior in the previous 105 games, which the league called “an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the history of the Department of Player Safety.”
Wilson and the NHLPA appealed the decision to a league arbitrator after the suspension was upheld on their initial appeal to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, as permitted under Article 18.13 of the CBA.
The arbitrator’s decision includes testimony from Bettman, as well that of George Parros, the head of Player Safety. It also includes the initial incident report from referees Kyle Rehman and Furman South.
At 5:22 of the second period Tom Wilson was assessed a match penalty for Illegal check to the head on a hit delivered on O. Sundqvist. As Sundqvist entered the zone he shot the puck towards the goal. Wilson, coming from the other side of the ice, delivered a check that resulted in significant contact to Sundqvist’s head right after the shot was released. Sundqvist was injured on the playas he stayed down on the ice and was bleeding from the face. Wilson was given a match penalty under rule 48.5.
Sundqvist, per the report, suffered a concussion and shoulder sprain as a result of the hit. He returned to action on October 25.
Das agreed with Player Safety and the commissioner that Wilson’s hit was a clear violation of Rule 48, Illegal Check to the Head, despite objections from the NHLPA’s Mathieu Schneider, who felt Wilson did not violate the rule.
From George Parros’ testimony:
“When I look at the video, I think it looks very clear that, you know, the head is the main point of contact or there wasn’t much question for me, really. I see a head snap, I see some shoulder contact as well, but I certainly see the head being the main point of contact. It wasn’t too questionable for me.”
Where the arbitrator’s opinions differed from the league’s was concerning the length of the suspension.
I find that the League’s decision that Wilson violated Rule 48 was supported by substantial evidence, but that the length of the 20-game suspension imposed was not supported by substantial evidence.
As remedy, consistent with my findings, I conclude that Wilson’s suspension should be reduced to 14 games. I have arrived at this length by treating his most recent prior 3 playoff game suspension as the equivalent of 6 regular season games, as Parros did, doubling that based on all relevant circumstances to 12 games — which certainly constitutes more severe punishment consistent with the CBA — and adding 2 games, as Parros did, based on the injury to Sundqvist.
This 14-game suspension reflects the similarities with [the Patrick Kaleta suspension ruling] as well as the relevant circumstances that support a somewhat longer suspension in this case.
Wilson will be back in the Caps’ lineup tonight against the Minnesota Wild.
He’d better be on his best behavior.