Wilson was ejected from the Capitals’ 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, given a match penalty at 17:39 of the second period for a hit from behind on Devils forward Brett Seney. Although he appeared injured on the play, Seney returned to play 3 minutes and 20 seconds in the third period.
With the Devils pressuring in the Capitals’ defensive zone, Seney spun around and sent the puck to the corner. As Seney skated backward towards the blue line, Wilson skated into the zone toward the puck. He made contact with Seney’s upper body, and the Devils forward fell to the ice with his head in his hands.
Wilson has been a frequent target of the NHL Department of Player Safety, having been suspended four times since September 2017. His last suspension, for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game on Sept. 30, 2018, earned him a 20-game suspension from the NHL. It was subsequently reduced to 14 games after Wilson and the NHLPA appealed to a neutral arbitrator, although the Capitals forward had already served 16 games.
Despite the reduction, the implications were clear: The next Tom Wilson suspension for a hit to the head could mean a massive punishment, especially given his repeat-offender status with multiple suspensions.
But does this play rise to the level of supplemental discipline?
This is the hit that got Tom Wilson a match penalty tonight. pic.twitter.com/ST8Z2FMHAh
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) December 1, 2018
The Capitals believed it did not.
“[Wilson] isn’t even intending to make a hit. It’s incidental contact, and he is following his defenseman down the wall, the player backs into him, he tries to get out of the way of the player, makes himself as small as possible, and there’s incidental contact,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden after the game. “This guy is doing everything he can to try to play the right way, and this is how things are happening. It’s a tough situation. We just have two players that got concussions, they don’t even call a penalty on [those plays].”
Alan May, a former Capitals player who is now a broadcaster for the team on NBC Sports Washington, also disagreed with the call.
“It shouldn’t have even been a minor penalty,” May said. “This is incidental contact. It’s a player skating backwards, and Tom Wilson trying to play a defensive role. He’s not even trying to hit him. The referee looks out of the corner of his eye and sees No. 43. A two-minute penalty, let alone a five-minute penalty, I think it’s disgusting. The Capitals should be upset as an organization.”
While the optics were bad, this is likely how the Department of Player Safety will view it: a late hit, but not one that’s a predatory hit to the head of Seney. Another controversy for Tom Wilson, but not necessarily one that’s going to result in another suspension.
Wilson has been on an offensive tear since returning from suspension, scoring seven goals and six assists in nine games, including a goal against the Devils.