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Penguins’ big defense spending continues with Oleksiak

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Perhaps it’s fitting that the Pittsburgh Penguins put a bow on big defense spending by re-signing Jamie Oleksiak, one of the largest humans you’ll see roaming a blueline.

The team announced that they signed the 25-year-old to a three-year contract that will carry a $2,137,500 cap hit. He’s generally listed at 6-foot-7, which is just a couple inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.

(It only seems fair that he was frequently called upon to drop the mitts once he arrived from Dallas then, right?)

In a vacuum, it’s an inoffensive contract, although some will grimace a bit at giving three years to a potential depth defenseman. Your overall opinion of the big blueliner will vary depending upon how you value what he brings to the table. His size is valued by many, and he didn’t take on too much water from a possession standpoint.

There’s little denying that he enjoyed something of a career rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, echoing Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, even though his gritty style makes him quite different from those fleet-footed defensemen. After averaging just 15 minutes per game with the Stars, Oleksiak’s ice time shot up to an average of 17:24 in 41 contests with Pittsburgh.

That ice time plummeted during the postseason, as he only logged an average of 13:43 per contest.

We’ve seen teams get burned by handing an extension to a defenseman who thrived during a brief audition, such as Brendan Smith‘s disastrous turn with the Rangers, although the Penguins didn’t shell out as large of a cap hit here.

The larger concern might be that the Penguins could be guilty of a mistake a lot of contenders fall victim of: locking up a lot of depth players when it might be wiser to allow more room to scour the market for cheaper options in the bottom of the order. On the other hand, maybe Oleksiak will end up being another successful reclamation project in Pittsburgh?

Either way, the Penguins are locked in with quite a few defensemen, so substantial commitments abound.

It’s a pricey group, too. Via Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Penguins are spending almost $27M on seven defensemen: Oleksiak, Schultz, Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Chad Ruhwedel.

For some, that’s the price of doing business for a team not far removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.

Others will blanche at the thought that, at times, the Penguins overcome this group, rather than being propped up by it. Those critics surely won’t be over the moon about some of their recent commitments, especially oft-criticized Jack Johnson carrying a $3.25M cap hit mere months after the Blue Jackets couldn’t give him away during the trade deadline.

There are some red flags going on with that unit, and maybe the Oleksiak signing will be looked upon as a mistake.

Ultimately, it’s not the sort of decision that will derail the Penguins’ hopes for contending now and in the future. The worry, though, is that the mistakes might start to really pile up for the Pens. After all, flexibility can be crucial in the modern NHL, and GM Jim Rutherford risks painting himself into a corner.

(Then again, the Blackhawks reminded us today that you can often foist your cap problems on other teams, so maybe none of this is all that big of a concern?)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson handed stiff three-game suspension

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He may have gotten away with it during Tuesday’s game, but Tom Wilson didn’t escape the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Wednesday.

The Washington Capitals forward was handed a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese.

Wilson wasn’t penalized on the play. Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw and a concussion stemming from the collision in the second period.

Wilson will be eligible to return to the Capitals lineup for Game 7 of the series, if it makes it there. The Capitals currently lead the Penguins 2-1 after a 4-3 win on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

DOPS head George Parros said Wilson elevated his left shoulder into the hit, causing Aston-Reese’s head to become the main point of contact.

Parros determined that the hit was avoidable and that Aston-Reese made no sudden move to result in the headshot. He also noted that Wilson could have made a full-body hit, but instead changes course, extends up onto the toes of his skate.

“The onus is on the player to ensure this upward motion does not pick the head in a way that makes it the main point of contact,” Parros said.

Wilson falls into the repeat offender category as stipulated in the CBA.

Wilson escaped unscathed in Game 2 after catching defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head.

Wilson is the second player to be suspended for three games after Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was given the same suspension for the same offense in the first round.

Wilson was last suspended for an illegal check on Blues forward Sammy Blais during the preseason. The incident cost the Capitals forward the first four games of the regular season. Earlier in the preseason, Wilson also sat for two games for interfering with Blues forward Robert Thomas.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Wilson to have hearing for illegal check to head on Aston-Reese

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Another day, another appointment with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for Capitals forward Tom Wilson.

This time, Wilson will have a hearing for an illegal check to the head he dished out on Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 on Tuesday night. You can check out the play by clicking the video at the top of the page.

After the game, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced that Aston-Reese suffered a concussion and a broken jaw that will require surgery.

“We lose a guy to a broken jaw that’s going to require surgery and a concussion because of another high hit to the head,” Sullivan said. “At some point we would hope that the league might do something.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Wilson made waves in Game 2, after he caught defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head, but the NHL decided that the hit on the Pens blue liner wasn’t worthy of a suspension.

The 24-year-old always seems to walk a fine line when he hits the ice, but it’s not uncommon for him to go overboard. Wilson was last suspended for an illegal check on Blues forward Sammy Blais during the preseason. The incident cost the Capitals forward the first four games of the regular season. Earlier in the preseason, Wilson also sat for two games for interfering with Blues forward Robert Thomas.

As you’d expect, he’ll be considered a repeat offender.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Penguins coach on Wilson hit: ‘At some point we hope the league might do something’

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PITTSBURGH — Forget that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have been two of the best teams in the NHL over the past decade. Forget that they possess the two greatest players of this generation — heck, they are two of the greatest players in the history of the sport — in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Forget that the former scored his eighth goal of the playoffs on Tuesday, and that the latter continued what has been to this point a marvelous and dominant postseason performance with his eighth goal of the playoffs to complete a third period comeback and lift the Capitals to a 4-3 win, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series against their long-time nemesis.

This series, no matter who wins it or loses it, is no longer about any of that. It is no longer about the two superstars. It is no longer about Pittsburgh’s quest for a three-peat, or the Capitals’ quest to break through the second-round glass ceiling.

This series is, at least for now, the Tom Wilson series.

For the second time in as many games, and for the third time in these playoffs, another player had to leave a game with an injury — this one a significant injury — as a result of yet another controversial hit from the Capitals’ forward.

This time the unlucky recipient was Penguins rookie forward Zach Aston-Reese — joining Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg in the first round, and Brian Dumoulin, Aston-Reese’s teammate, in this round  — as he was crushed in front of the Capitals’ bench. He remained on the ice for several moments before finally bringing himself to his feet and slowly skating to the locker room. Just as there was on Sunday when Brian Dumoulin had to exit the game, there was no penalty called on the play.

All four officials had a lengthy discussion after the play.

Paul Devorski, the NHL’s on-site supervisor, spoke to a pool reporter after the game to explain what was going on there.

“When we have a big hit like that, and there’s a lot of stuff going on on the ice, our guys come together,” said Devorski. “Obviously both referees didn’t put their arm up, so obviously they didn’t think there was a penalty. So now they bring in the linesmen, who if they think it’s a major penalty, they’ll tell the referees. So they all got together and they said, ‘You know what, we’ve got a good, clean check here.”

Devorski’s brother, Greg Devorski, was one of the linesman in the game. Ryan Gibbons was the other. The referees were Kevin Pollock and Francois St. Laurent.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

After the game an obviously irritated Mike Sullivan revealed the extent of Aston-Reese’s injury, perhaps in an effort to grab the attention of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. After all, the result of the hit often times seems to play a role in what punishment is handed out.

“Well, we just have to stay focussed,” said Sullivan, when asked how the team has to try and maintain its composure in the wake of that play.

“We lose a guy to a broken jaw that is going to require surgery and a concussion because of another high hit to the head. At some point we would hope that the league might do something. But as far as we’re concerned, all we can control is what is within our power and that is our focus on the game. That is where our focus will be.”

Sullivan really didn’t need to call attention to any of it, though.

Not only does the league review everything, but the head of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, former long-time enforcer George Parros, was in attendance in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. He had a front row seat for all of it. What he and his staff decide to do in the wake of this one will be anybody’s guess, though recent history probably gives us a good indication of where they might go.

Just as was the case with the Wennberg hit in the first-round, and just as their was with the Dumoulin hit on Sunday, and just as there has been with pretty much every controversial, borderline hit that Wilson has delivered in his career, there is again enough gray area here — or unclear views on replay, or anything else that seems to happen when these hits get delivered — to leave everything open to debate.

Mike Sullivan simply called it a high hit.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz also weighed in, not only on the hit, but Wilson in general.

“Tom is obviously a big body, he is tremendously strong and he hits hard,” said Trotz. “My first look at the hit, both guys are bracing for it, it is shoulder to shoulder and he just blew through him. There are very passionate fan bases, we have a passionate fan base. Pitt does, too. You can’t be neutral. That’s why there is a neutral party that looks at it. We just say all along whatever the league decides, we are good with it. To me it was a hard hockey hit. If you want my opinion that is what I saw. It was shoulder to shoulder.”

When Trotz was asked a follow-up that included the update on Aston-Reese’s status, he declined further comment and said he didn’t care about what Sullivan said.

“I already said what I am going to say about the hit, I don’t think I need to comment anymore, and I really don’t care what Sully said,” said Trotz. “I’m not on their medical team, so I couldn’t tell you. All I can say is I saw the hit, both guys braced for it, shoulder on shoulder, and I don’t know the extent of their player so I don’t think I should comment on it.”

[Related: Wilson enrages Penguins with another controversial hit]

The Penguins were also not happy that Wilson was seen laughing on the bench after the play.

“I get the physical game. I get the physical play. I’ve been on the wrong side of it,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. “At the end of the day I respect what kind of game he plays. But you don’t laugh at somebody getting hurt. You don’t do that.”

Justin Schultz called it “disrespectful.”

The Capitals did not make Wilson available to the media after the game.

Now we play the waiting game on Wednesday to see if Wilson is summoned for a disciplinary hearing.

Given that he was actually penalized during the game for the Wennberg hit and still did not receive a suspension, and did not have a hearing for the Dumoulin hit, it would be awfully hard to believe the league would draw the line here on this.

That means Wilson will probably be back on the ice for Game 4 on Thursday where he will no doubt end up being the center of attention, whether it be before the game when both sides are asked about him or his play, or something he does during the game.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby might score some more goals.

Might even be a great game with another fantastic finish.

But make no mistake, this is now the Tom Wilson series.

UPDATE: Wilson will have a DoPS hearing on Wednesday.

Related: On Tom Wilson, player safety, and avoiding suspensions

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Tom Wilson enrages Penguins with another controversial hit

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Another game, another controversial hit by Tom Wilson.

Whether you thought Wilson deserved to be suspended for his hit from Game 2 on Brian Dumoulin or not, you would be foolish to expect the Washington Capitals agitator to be a wallflower in Game 3. Instead, he’s at the center of another controversy during what’s become a heated, nasty, and entertaining second period between the Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wilson delivered a hard but unpenalized hit on Zach Aston-Reese this time around, bloodying the Penguins forward. Aston-Reese appeared to throw his glove at the Capitals bench on his way off the ice. (Check out footage of that collision in the video above this post’s headline.)

Update: The Penguins announced that Aston-Reese was diagnosed with a concussion and broken jaw.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

During the moment of Wilson’s hit, the Penguins shook off John Carlson‘s opening goal to rattle off a 2-1 lead. Less than a minute after that big collision, Chandler Stephenson tied the game up 2-2 to a chorus of boos.

The middle frame fireworks continued when Jake Guentzel made a fantastic play to set up Sidney Crosby for a 3-2 goal. You can watch the game live here.

In case you want to see it again, here’s that Wilson-Ovechkin hit on Dumoulin.

The Capitals ended up beating the Penguins 4-3 to take a 2-1 series lead. More on that here.

UPDATE: Wilson will have a DoPS hearing on Wednesday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.