Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is in trouble yet again and facing a lengthy suspension. The NHL Department of Player Safety has announced that they have offered Wilson an in-person hearing related to “boarding” for the high hit delivered to Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo on Friday night. In-person hearings are reserved for cases in which the player is facing a suspension of more than five games. The hearing will take place tonight.
Wilson, generally regarded as the dirtiest player in the NHL, was last suspended in 2018 for 20 games, but the suspension was reduced to 14 games by a neutral arbitrator. Although enough time has passed since then that Wilson is no longer considered a “repeat offender”, that label only applies to fine calculations and all previous discipline will be considered in a suspension decision. Wilson has previously been suspended four times in his career for a total of 23 games, including one for boarding and twice for hits to the head, and while this newest potential suspension may be for as few as six games, the league could return to 20+ games since Wilson has clearly not learned his lesson. The shortened season could come into play when determining the length, however.
The league is certainly facing pressure to hammer Wilson with substantial discipline for his latest aggression, especially since the referees did not even call a penalty on the play. There was quite an outcry last night following Wilson’s hit, led by Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and star Brad Marchand and echoed by media members and former players alike online. The hit in question occurred in the first period and saw Wilson target a defenseless Carlo from a distance and deliver a hit to the head of the 6’5″ defenseman with a leaping check against the boards. As the head was not the sole point of contact, the league determined that this was not a case of an illegal check to the head but does meet the criteria of boarding despite an unorthodox angle of delivery. The league will still surely take into account that head contact was entirely avoidable as well. Carlo was helped from the ice and had to be transported to the hospital by ambulance. He spent the night in the hospital and was released this morning, with no timeframe for a return to the team.
While Wilson was the main culprit on the play, he is not the only one who faced potential retribution but at this point in time appears to be the only one set to receive it. Player Safety has not revealed any supplemental discipline for Jakub Vrana, who cross-checked Carlo multiple times in the upper back while he laid face-down on the ice. The league has also not publicly commented on the performance of referees Dean Morton and Pierre Lambert, who failed to penalize Wilson (with many options available) or Vrana and were inconsistent with calls all night.
Last night’s match-up was a case study in the continued value of fighting in the NHL. Whereas Morton and Lambert dropped the ball on maintaining order, Bruins Jarred Tinordi and Trent Frederic picked up the slack by each dropping the gloves with Wilson. As Wilson sat in the box following his first fight with Tinordi, the Bruins scored three of their five goals en route to an emotional win. The Bruins and Capitals do not square off again until April 8, so Boston is surely hoping for a maximum suspension for Wilson that might directly benefit them down the road.