Source: NHL Department of Player Safety
After a lengthy seven hour meeting between Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman last week in regards to Wilson’s 20 game suspension, which was announced on October 3rd, 2018 in the video above, it has been announced that Bettman has upheld 20 game suspension that was handed down by George Parros and the NHL Department of Player Safety.
What does this mean for Tom Wilson?
For Wilson, he still has to fulfill his 20 game sentence that was handed down by George Parros. However, Wilson and the NHLPA now have 7 days to submit an appeal to an arbitrator to have the suspension reduced.
What message is Gary Bettman sending with this decision?
In this scenario after reading the full 31 page explanation behind Bettman’s ruling it is clear that Bettman is sending multiple messages. One being to the NHLPA and their tactics to paint St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist as the player at complete fault for the hit and injuries he sustained. The other is fact that George Parros has actually had many conversations, some even in person, with Wilson throughout last season to discuss ways that Wilson can become a better player, but how in a sense has fallen on deaf ears.
A more thorough look at Bettman’s ruling the Commissioner explains in great detail several reasons why he upheld the suspension and did not reduce it. For starters we look at the play in hand that took place. A point of arguement that the NHLPA took was that Sundqvist put himself into a “vulnerable” position, but as detailed in Bettman’s ruling below such was not the case:
So as detailed above, and evidenced in all video evidence we have seen, that was not the case, and while Sundqvist was elgible to be hit, the notion he put himself in a vulnerable position, that was proved to be invalid.
Then next up is you have Oskar Sundqvist’s injuries which are listed below:
One of the biggest factors that lead to the 20 game ban is the fact that this was the second consecutive suspension doled out to Wilson that involved a player being injured and having to miss time as a resilt of Wilson’s hit. At the time of the hearing, and subsequent ruling, Sundqvist has not played a game yet this season due to his injuries from the hit by Wilson.
Now let’s talk about the hearing as well. With the magnitude of this suspension, and the thorough testimonies that took place on October 18th, there were actually more people involved with this hearing than was known including former Washington Capitals defenseman Joe Reekie, and former NHL defenseman Mathieu Schnieder, both representing the NHLPA. It is also noted the Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan was in attendance and was also called upon to testify along side George Parros from the Department of Player Safety.
The hearing lasted 7 hours and 15 minutes and yhe transcript, which undoubtedly was much longer than Bettman’s 31 page ruling, was delivered to the League office the very next day for review.
In some of the more interesting notes in Bettman’s ruling are that from Tom Wilson’s testimony:
In Wilson’s testimony, he openly admits that he did make contact with Sundqvist’s head, but that he could not conclude if Sundqvist’s head was the main point of contact. However, as noted, Bettman from watching the video concluded that it was.
The arguement above is found to be a very interesting one. While yes, Wilson is in fact backchecking in accordance to Washington’s defensive system, I doubt under Barry Trotz last season, and Todd Reirdon this season that he has been coached to play with the intent to hit on every opportunity when backchecking. Especially since we don’t see a lot of major hits when the Capitals are backchecking.
Then Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan under testimony stated the following:
MacLellan openly admits in testimony that Wilson could have done something different to change the impact of the hit and where the main point of contact of the hit as well. This is a huge stressor right here as MacLellan, a former NHL player himself, understands thr nature of the game, and knows how to throw a hit qithout targeting the head.
Now the above is strictly an explanation of the rule where “intent” is no longer something the League looks at when reviewing head hits per Rule 48, which was amended five years ago. It gives a solid example as provided by Parros.
And lastly, how did George Parros come to 20 games for Tom Wilson? The below note in Bettman’s ruling explains how:
It should also be noted that George Parros had two in person meetings with Tom Wilson last season just so they could watch footage and talk about how he could improve his play and decision making on the ice, plus also received additional warnings (mainly in the playoffs leading up to and after his suspension against Pittsburgh in the 2nd round) and guidance throughout last season as well.
Next thing is that we wait to see what Tom Wilson and the NHLPA do. Odds are they will appeal the suspension and look to get it reduced by an arbitrator.
However, the biggest thing that comes up next for Wilson is when he does finally return to the Capitals lineup. He will need to play smarter and pick better spots on when to throw his hits. Physicality is a hige part of hockey, and Wilson should never shy away from it, but he does need to do a better job.
*Source Notes – All images from Gary Bettman’s ruling are shown in full context and were not altered in any way. They are shown so people can read some of the key points in TXHT’s opinon were most import to be seen in full detail.