The neutral arbitrator has ruled, and Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist has been reduced to 14. The Washington Capitals forward is now immediately eligible to return to the lineup, given he has already missed 16 games this season. The reduction will however save Wilson nearly $400K in salary, compared to what he would have had to forfeit for the entire 20-game ban.
The arbitrator in this case was Shyam Das, the same that had reduced Austin Watson’s suspension for domestic violence earlier this year, and had previously been fired from the MLB for his reversal of Ryan Braun’s suspension. Das provided a 41-page decision, which concluded that the manner in which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety arrived at the 20-game mark was incorrect. Instead, Das provided evidence on how he arrived at 14 games:
…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 [George] 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.
Wilson will now have the eyes of the DoPS on him every time he steps on the ice, given the incredible frequency he’s served suspensions over the last few seasons. Every physical confrontation will put him at risk, as even slight contact with the head could result in a lengthy suspension. That’s a tough spot to be in for a player who relies so heavily on his physical play to contribute on the ice, meaning he may have to adjust his play style to continue his effectiveness. Unfortunately, that physical play has been Wilson’s calling card for his entire hockey career. It earned him a first-round selection in 2012 despite his pedestrian point totals in junior, and it delivered a six-year $31MM contract this summer when he became a restricted free agent.
This reduction is obviously a good outcome for Wilson, but the Capitals surely would have liked it to come a bit sooner. The team is struggling to repeat on their excellent 2017-18 season and now find themselves sitting near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings. That may not last for long, but after losing their last two games they now sit at just 7-6-3 on the season. They’ll hope a return of one of the 2018 playoff heroes will put them back on a path for the playoffs.