Tom Wilson: A Threat to Hockey?

By Noah Tanenbaum
Oct. 01, 2018

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Wilson.

Those two words arguably start the most heated debate in hockey today. Tom Wilson is a forward for the Washington Capitals who is known for his bruising hits, tiptoeing the line of borderline legal and downright dirty.

Last season, Wilson was suspended two times. He was suspended four preseason games and two regular season games after an illegal hit in the preseason. His next time, one that almost led to the Capitals demise in the playoffs, was three games in the heart of the Pittsburg series.

Tom Wilson can change a game, even a series, with a hit. That was evident as his hit in the First Round series against the New York Islanders propelled the Capitals to an eventual Game 7 win. He was in the heads of all the defenders, and players took stupid penalties trying to get back at him, much to the benefit of the Capitals.

Last night, however, in the final game of the preseason, Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist was skating into the offensive zone when Tom Wilson came out of nowhere with a shoulder-to-shoulder hit that left Sundqvist on the ice, woozy, and bleeding. While the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder, it was by no means clean. Wilson's shoulder boarders on hitting Sundqvist's head, and after the game Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo said that Sundqvist was "not good" and "definitely hurt". Wilson was given a match penalty, effectively ejecting him from the game, and prompting an in-person meeting with the NHL Department of Player Safety. The Department of Player Safety only extends in-person meetings for players who are going to be suspended six games or more. It is largely thought Wilson will be suspended around the 10 game mark.

Not only are these hits too common for Wilson, but after just signing him to a six year pact with an AAV of $5.1 million, losing their top line right winger for an eighth of the season is not ideal, especially for a hit in the preseason.

Aside from the Washington fan base, Wilson is public enemy #1 for every other team. When he cleans up his game, and gets away from the dirty hits, Wilson is the biggest X-Factor on the Washington Capitals. Just the threat of him is always looming in the heads of every player on the ice, and his game has improved every year, to the point where he anchored the first line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, two of the most talented players in all of the world. Wilson's play fits perfectly on the line with those two, and it's a shame Head Coach Todd Reirden won't be able to roll out that lineup for a good chunk of the season.

Not only are Wilson's hits dangerous to the players, and the sport of the game, but to his own team. Leaving a player not moving on the ice bleeding is not what anyone wants to see, and it certainly brings up a point if he should be able to continue playing with the dangerous hits that he has levied in his short tenure. One has to think another hit like this will consider the NHL to take substantial action against Wilson.

His last two hits that have gotten him suspended, in the playoffs last year and the preseason this year, has him breaking a players jaw and effectively ending his season, and leaving a player lifeless and woozy on the ice bleeding.

This hits have to stop. The safety of the players is the most important element to this. But Wilson's selfishness should not be overlooked. This Capitals team needs him on the first line if they are even thinking about repeating, and losing him for a chunk of the season makes them lose their edge. Let's hope Wilson can finally clean up his act, and that his upcoming suspension will finally get through to him. If he can clean up his game, the Capitals have a shot. If not, there may be no more Tom Wilson.