It is the song that never ends …
Tom Wilson is 24 years old. Whether you believe that the Washington Capitals forward is a) extremely dirty, b) sometimes dirty, sometimes “walking the line” or c) mostly an “honest player,” it’s difficult to shake the sinking suspicion that hockey fans will be debating Wilson’s borderline hits over and over and over again.
Will it be weekly? Monthly? At least once-per-series during a given postseason run?
Capitals fans will undoubtedly bristle at the Matt Cooke comparisons floating around on social media, but there’s a salient bigger picture point. The NHL’s made its bed with this situation by leaving so much room for confusion and debate when it comes to illegal hits. As you may recall, Cooke’s notorious check on Marc Savard was “legal” or at least straddled that line, and now it feels like we’ll be counting each frame before a Wilson hit to decide how late it was. Or any number of exhausting debates that dive deep into minutiae instead of getting at the true heart of the matter.
(Revelations like this possibly NSFW tweet from TSN’s Rick Westhead? Now those get a little closer to the heart of the matter.)
So, let’s dust off the arguments (OK, there wasn’t enough time for dust to form), as the latest verdict is in. According to reporters including USA Today’s Kevin Allen, Tom Wilson will not have a hearing for his late hit on Jonathan Marchessault from Washington’s 6-4 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
One prevalent argument is that, while the late check may have been worthy of a five-minute major instead of the minor penalty (which didn’t result in a Vegas power play, as a David Perron cross-check on Alex Ovechkin canceled that out), but maybe not a suspension.
Mike Milbury discussed as much after Game 1, while the Capitals had their own beefs about Ryan Reaves getting away with cross-checking John Carlson before scoring the 4-4 goal. It wouldn’t be one bit surprising if that missed call made the NHL more reluctant to dive deeper into this specific situation.
But the NHL, as a general rule, has not suspended players in the past for an interference call unless there was head contact or the victim suffered an injury. Marchessault was placed in concussion protocol but returned to the game. He talked to members of the media after the game and appeared to be fine.
And, let’s face it, the NHL probably didn’t want to hand Wilson another suspension after making him sit three game earlier during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Wilson believes the attention is overblown.
For what it’s worth, multiple members of the Vegas Golden Knights – Marchessault included – stated that they believed (or at least hoped) that the NHL would “take care of it.” In league parlance, that’s one big elbow nudge to try to get someone suspended. With Marchessault seemingly OK after Game 1, the anger over this decision could die down quickly, which is another element of these debates that complicates decisions.
The thing is, the NHL really should take care of this.
Unfortunately, if prior history is any indication, dramatic changes will come slowly. Instead, the league will settle for putting a Band-Aid on a hole in the wall, even if it means that Wilson, Brad Marchand, and the rest of the Department of Player Safety’s speed dial list continues to play roulette with suspensions.
It’s a shame that these debates are overshadowing what was a scintillating Game 1, but this is the bed the NHL has made for itself.
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub