When the Capitals signed Tom Wilson to six-year, $31 million contract in 2018 it raised some eyebrows. That was a significant deal for a player that, at the time, had scored more than seven goals in a season just once in five years, topped 30 points only one time, and was mostly a role player on a team full of All-Stars.
As the years have gone by, though, it has become apparent that even with his flaws, and even with the inevitable significant suspension always lurking around the next corner, he is still worth every penny to the Capitals.
Not only because his offensive game has evolved into him being a 20-25 goal scorer who can also defend, but because he continues to have an undeniable impact on Metropolitan Division opponents. It is not a good impact for those teams.
There is a pattern of events that transpires here.
- Tom Wilson does something that angers a team.
- Team gets criticized for not doing enough to deter Tom Wilson or answer him.
- News cycle explodes talking about it, whether he will get suspended for it, and if the suspension is enough of a punishment (or outrage and anger over why there is no suspension).
- Team spends next offseason bringing in people to deal with Tom Wilson.
- Team does not get better because of it.
- Tom Wilson does something else to anger that same team.
- Repeat all of the aforementioned steps.
It was the Penguins a few years ago when former general manager Jim Rutherford became obsessed with finding an answer for Wilson, and then getting increasingly angry, frustrated, and outrageous when he could not figure it out. We outlined part of that here, and the negative impact it had on the overall quality of the team. The Penguins have won just a single playoff round since then.
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The Islanders had somewhat similar (but not as significant) concern when Wilson hit Lubomir Visnovsky during the 2014-15 playoffs.
Now it is the Rangers’ turn.
The Rangers have not yet made the big offseason splash many expected them to make this offseason, but they have made some eye opening moves in signing defenseman Jarred Tinordi and on Thursday night trading for tough guy Ryan Reaves.
There is only one reason a team like the Rangers makes those moves.
It is this.
That was quite the talking point for a few days during the season, and so far the Rangers’ offseason has seen them trade away a highly skilled, highly productive top-six winger (Pavel Buchnevich) and bring in a lot of grit and toughness. Including two players that have rather noteworthy run-ins with Wilson.
They probably will not be every day players. They will definitely not be significant players. But they are taking roster sports, and they are taking salary cap space (about $2 million between them), and you can be darn sure that they will be two of the 18 skaters that dress in the three games the Rangers play against the Capitals this season.
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That is something the Capitals are probably perfectly happy with. They probably welcome it.
The truly wild thing about all of it is none of it will have the impact anybody thinks it will.
Wilson is not going to change the way he plays. He is not going to stop doing the things he does because, well, that is what he does. That is his game. You do not deter players like that. You are not going to scare them or intimidate them. All you are doing is willingly weakening your team, even if for a few games, so you can make yourself feel better for getting your own pound of flesh after the fact.
You also cannot just find another Tom Wilson to counter him because there is not another player like him in the NHL.
One of these days teams will figure that out and stop altering their roster in meaningful ways to deal with a pretty good, but frustrating player.
This does not appear to be that day.