Let’s watch three hits laid by Capitals winger Tom Wilson. All of them are from the last two weeks, spread between Washington’s first two Stanley Cup Playoffs series. The last of them got him suspended for Games 4 through 6 of a current series against the Penguins.
1. This one to the head of the Blue Jackets’ Alexander Wennberg:
2. This one to the head of the Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin, Sunday:
Tom Wilson catches Brian Dumoulin in the head from behind with a hit pic.twitter.com/AeTIhsyHhs— Ian Oland (@ianoland) April 29, 2018
3. This one to the head of the Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese, Tuesday:
Another hit to the head by Tom Wilson pic.twitter.com/PAiErjxNPF— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 2, 2018
Head or shoulder? Up to you, but it’s borderline pic.twitter.com/V5VW9g4rFK— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 2, 2018
The Penguins announced after the game that Aston-Reese has the kind of injuries that will probably keep him out for the rest of the playoffs:
Coach Sullivan confirms that as a result of the Tom Wilson hit in the 2nd period, Zach Aston-Reese has a broken jaw that will require surgery as well as a concussion.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 2, 2018
Whether these hits are legal or not depends on where you think Wilson made contact with the guys he was hitting. The NHL’s criteria for an illegal hit to the head is the head needs to be the “principal point of contact” between the hitter and the hit. It’s supposed to discipline players who make such contact, and NHL fans have taken a liking to dissecting screenshots of head contact like they’re the Zapruder film.
The NHL didn’t suspend Wilson after the hit on Wennberg in the first round, though he did get a penalty for it. The league couldn’t decide if the head was the principal point of contact. Maybe that’s fair.
The NHL also didn’t suspend Wilson for the hit on Dumoulin, which came in Game 2 of this ongoing Penguins series. The league thought the hit was unavoidable because of how Dumoulin moved his head prior to contact. Maybe that’s fair, too.
The NHL suspended Wilson three games for the hit on Aston-Reese, which was a break from the norm.
Wilson was been suspended twice previously for illegal hits this year, with both coming in a span of two weeks during the preseason. The league doesn’t like to suspend players during the playoffs, just like its referees let lots of penalties go in the playoffs. It’s a longstanding NHL thing that the rules don’t apply the same in the spring.
But Wilson got suspended anyway. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety said the hit to Aston-Reese’s head was unavoidable, and that the head was the principal contact point. His suspension was longer than most, because he’s a repeat offender and Aston-Reese got hurt.
“This is an illegal check to the head,” the league said.
These hits just keep happening, as NBC Sports’ Adam Gretz explains:
He always seems to find himself in these positions. He always seems to find himself at the center of the controversial play where “there is nothing else he could have done,” or “the contact could not be avoided,” or “there was not a clear view of what happened.” No matter the situation, no matter the hit, no matter the result, there is an always an excuse for why it was okay or why it shouldn’t have been elevated to the level of supplemental discipline. The story of his career to this point can probably be summed up as: Hey, that was probably a bad hit with an unfortunate result for the guy on the receiving end of it but there just wasn’t enough evidence to suspend him … this time.
At least after hitting Aston-Reese and leaving his blood on the ice, Wilson felt bad.