Capitals forward Tom Wilson has become a notorious NHL delinquent and Undesirable No. 1 for the league’s Department of Player Safety through his polarizing career. His controversial playing style is effective at flustering opponents and angering their fan bases, but sometimes it goes too far, resulting in injury
Until recently, Wilson evaded formal punishment from the league despite a reputation for playing with reckless abandon, because the NHL’s ambiguous rules regarding upper-body contact make those types of plays difficult to prosecute.
As of the start of the 2018-19 season, no player in the NHL has been penalized more since Wilson entered the league in 2013. Of his 255 penalties (regular-season only) during that span, roughly 20 percent have been majors (58). They add up to 806 minutes, including 11 misconducts and a match penalty. Only two other players (Antoine Roussel and Cody McLeod at 707) have more than 600 penalty minutes. Again, these figures don’t even include his postseason misbehavior.
Yet, Wilson has only been suspended three times in his career (once for preseason games only) and fined once.
Regardless of one’s opinion about Wilson’s play, one thing can’t be debated: He has repeatedly placed himself in situations worthy of scrutiny. Here’s a general timeline recapping each of those instances.
Wilson drew scrutiny on four (!) separate occasions during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run. The first was during Game 1 of the first-round series against the Blue Jackets when he was penalized for charging Alexander Wennberg. The Department of Player Safety took a look but ultimately ruled against supplementary discipline because the replay angles “could not determine whether or not Wennberg’s head was the main point of contact.” Wilson didn’t receive a hearing.
Then, Wilson knocked Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin from Game 2. Dumoulin had been skating in front of Wilson, pulling up at the last second to avoid a hit from an incoming Alex Ovechkin. Wilson followed through on his check, hitting Dumoulin in the head, but he wasn’t penalized. Wilson explained the hit as being the result of Dumoulin’s last-second maneuver. He again avoided a hearing with the DoPS.
Brian Dumoulin takes a hit to the head from Tom Wilson and then gets rocked by Alex Ovechkin pic.twitter.com/TYbJCrvHx5
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) April 29, 2018
The most egregious — and the one that finally landed Wilson a three-game suspension — occurred during Game 3, when a hit to the head of the Penguins’ Zach Aston-Reese, which broke the rookie’s jaw and caused a concussion.
Wilson argued the point of contact was Aston-Reese’s shoulder, and depending on the angle of the replay, it could be inconclusive as to whether it constituted an illegal check to the head under current rules.
Wilson again stirred up suspension chatter during the Stanley Cup Final’s Game 1, barreling into the blind side of Jonathan Marchessault. The Golden Knights’ playoff scoring leader, well behind the play, had released the puck with plenty of advance notice for Wilson to ease up. The NHL ultimately spared Wilson again.
Wilson was suspended twice before the 2017-18 season began. He sat out two exhibitions — the NHL equivalent of a slap on the wrist — for a Sept. 22 hit on the Blues’ Robert Thomas.
Eight days later, Wilson received the harshest penalty of his career to date after boarding Sam Blais in another exhibition against the Blues, resulting in a major penalty and a game misconduct. The DoPS came down hard on Wilson, suspending him for the first four games of the regular season — the only meaningful suspension Wilson has served until now. He forfeited $97,560.96 in game salary.
December 2016: John Moore
Devils defenseman John Moore had to be stretchered off the ice after Wilson hit him from behind, driving Moore into the boards face first. Wilson wasn’t penalized. Moore was diagnosed with a concussion and missed 17 games. The DoPS did not arrange a hearing.
April 2016: Conor Sheary
Wilson was spared a suspension but was fined $2,900 (the maximum allowable under the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement) for a knee-on-knee collision with Penguins forward Conor Sheary during Game 1 of their second-round series in 2016. While skating to the bench, Wilson deliberately went out of his way to make contact with Sheary, who was in pain but remained in the game. Wilson wasn’t penalized.
April 2016: Nikita Zadorov
Wilson’s April 1 hit on Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov split the clean-vs.-dirty discussion down the middle. As Zadorov traced behind the net, Wilson came barreling down the other side of the ice and lit up his unsuspecting target. Zadorov suffered a concussion but played in each of Colorado’s remaining four games. Wilson, who wasn’t penalized during the game, didn’t receive a suspension.
December 2015: Brian Campbell
Wilson was ejected in the third period of a Dec. 10 game against the Panthers for boarding defenseman Brian Campbell. That stood as his only penalty as the DoPS determined the hit wasn’t suspension-worthy. Campbell didn’t miss a game.
December 2015: Curtis Lazar
Wilson received a match penalty for a hit to the head of Senators forward Curtis Lazar, but the penalty was later rescinded by the NHL before Wilson served the mandatory one-game suspension. The Capitals had argued the contact to the head was accidental, instead caused by an initial check to the hip. The league never publicly explained its decision and the match penalty was scrubbed from Wilson’s record.
April 2015: Lubomir Visnovsky
Wilson received a charging minor for leveling Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of the Capitals’ first-round playoff series in 2015, a play that injured Visnovsky, a serial concussion victim, and kept him out the remaining three games of the series. Wilson wasn’t disciplined further.
December 2013: Brayden Schenn
Wilson’s first run-in with the NHL’s disciplinarians concerned a Dec. 17 hit of the Flyers’ Brayden Schenn, when Wilson charged in from the blue line and leveled Schenn into the end boards. Wilson was ejected, and the play drew a phone hearing with the DoPS. The league ultimately decided against a suspension and instead released a long-winded video explaining its decision to spare Wilson.
This article has been edited to reflect Wilson’s up-to-date disciplinary information.