The seven-game suspension handed to Tom Wilson for boarding Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo has left his Washington Capitals coach and teammates wondering where the line is for whether a hit merits a suspension.
To Wilson’s coach and teammates, his crushing hit on Carlo — which sent Carlo to the hospital Friday and leaves him “week to week,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said — shouldn’t have resulted in any suspension.
“The hit itself is a pretty common hit. It happens quite a bit and guys rarely get fined for it let alone suspended seven games,” Capitals winger T.J. Oshie said. “I stand behind Tom and his intentions. I don’t think he was intending to hurt anybody, and I guess it’s the burden being bigger and stronger than most guys.”
The hit came late in the first period of Friday’s 5-1 loss to Boston. Carlo was battling for the puck along the boards with winger Jakub Vrana, and his head was dipped low when Wilson made contact. Carlo was “unable to brace for contact, anticipate the hit, or protect himself in any way from Wilson, who is approaching from outside his field of vision,” a video from the Department of Player Safety said.
The NHL said Wilson’s impact with Carlo’s “face and head, causing a violent impact with the glass” made it warrant a suspension. Carlo had to be helped from the ice and was transported by ambulance to the hospital. Cassidy said Carlo was released Saturday, but he remains at home resting.
Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin said the suspension for Wilson is “kind of a joke.” While he said he doesn’t want to see another player get injured, there was no penalty call on the ice when it happened. Ovechkin said he spoke to the referees after the first period, and one official told the captain he didn’t think the hit even warranted a two-minute minor.
“The player gets hurt, it sucks,” Ovechkin said. “But I think when you play hockey, I think you have to be ready for that. You have to know who’s on the ice.”
Wilson has a history of hefty hits preceding him. He has previously been suspended four times, but the most recent one came in October 2018. That was a 20-game suspension for a blind-side hit on St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist.
The 26-year-old said before the 2018-19 season that he wasn’t going to eliminate his physicality completely, but he wanted to adapt to avoid as many penalties and suspensions. The length of the suspension from his latest hit on Carlo seems to stem from his history, though.
“This is a player with a substantial disciplinary record taking advantage of an opponent who is in a defenseless position and doing so with significant force,” the NHL’s video stated.
Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said suspending Wilson for that hit could change the precedent moving forward as to what deserves discipline along the boards. He said he watched some videos Saturday featuring some of the league’s best hits, and the coach saw plenty along the boards that looked like Wilson’s.
“Now that it’s a suspendable hit, I think it’s something we’ll try to talk to our players about and certainly educate a little bit,” Laviolette said. “Up until this point, I think that everybody thought that hitting somebody square-up with the puck was a hit that was in the game.”
That could prompt players — Wilson included — to adjust their game to avoid similar hits. While no two hits are identical, center Lars Eller said, he felt like there was a difference between Wilson’s contact Friday and New York Islanders winger Leo Komarov’s hit on Eller in January.
While Wilson hit Carlo more shoulder-to-shoulder, Komarov hit Eller straight from behind into the boards. The winger earned a five-minute major for the collision but wasn’t suspended, and Eller missed four games with an upper-body injury.
Eller considers himself lucky his head didn’t strike the boards and he didn’t suffer a concussion.
“But I think the intention, or what led up to the hit, was in ways worse on me because I was in a more vulnerable position facing the glass,” Eller said. “That being said, I hope the guy is going to be back playing soon and he’s okay. You never want to see a guy get injured.”
Looking at both hits, though, Eller said the suspension for Wilson and lack of discipline for Komarov “doesn’t really add up.” So now the Capitals will be without Wilson — who’s tied for the third-most points on the team — for seven games.
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