Capitals forward Tom Wilson has long been 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.
He had gone almost 2 1/2 years without formal punishment from the league despite continuing to play with reckless abandon, because the NHL’s ambiguous rules regarding upper-body contact make those types of plays difficult to prosecute. He finally received justice with a seven-game suspension — which will cost him $311,781.61 — for boarding the Bruins’ Brandon Carlo in a March 5 game.
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As of March 6, no player in the NHL has been penalized more since Wilson entered the league in 2013. Of his 333 penalties (regular-season only) during that span, more than 20 percent have been majors (72). They add up to 1,052 minutes, including 16 misconducts and two match penalties. Only three other players (Antoine Roussel, Cody McLeod and Evander Kane) have more than 700 penalty minutes. Again, these figures don’t even include his postseason misbehavior.
Wilson has now been suspended five times and fined twice by the league.
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.
This article was originally published in 2018. Tom Gatto contributed to this report.
Wilson “crossed the line” again during a May 3 game against the Rangers, at least in the view of New York coach David Quinn and captain Mika Zibanejad.
Wilson incited a brawl in the second period when he punched Rangers forward Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head during a netside scrum while Buchnevich was in a defenseless position. Moments later, while officials worked to separate players from both teams, Wilson tore off the helmet of star Artemi Panarin and twice slammed him to the ice, injuring Panarin in the process.
Wilson was penalized four minutes for roughing and a 10-minute game misconduct. Panarin served a two-minute minor for roughing and didn’t return to the game due to injury.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued Wilson a $5,000 fine “for roughing” Buchnevich. It did not mention the incident with Panarin and declined to suspend Wilson, once again drawing the ire of his critics.
Washington’s Tom Wilson has been fined $5,000, the maximum allowable under the CBA, for Roughing NY Rangers’ Pavel Buchnevich.
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 4, 2021
“We all saw it. There are lines that can’t be crossed in this game. There’s just zero respect for the game in general,” Quinn said after the game. “You got one of the star players in this league now that could have gotten seriously, seriously hurt in that incident. You all saw what happened, and it happens time and time again with him. Totally unnecessary.”
Wilson went such a long time between sanctions not because he had cleaned up his act, but because he hadn’t done enough to get the NHL to pay attention. Then came his high hit on Carlo.
Carlo’s head struck the end boards glass after Wilson led a check with his shoulder. Carlo had to leave the game and was later taken to a Boston hospital. No penalty was called, which angered Boston’s bench even more.
The NHL announced a hearing with Wilson the next day. The league then handed down the seven-game ban.
“While there are aspects of this hit that may skirt the line between suspendable and not suspendable, it is the totality of the cirucmstances that caused this play to merit supplemental discipline,” the Department of Player safety said. “What separates this hit from others is the direct and significant contact to a defenseless player’s face and head, causing a violent impact with the glass. This is a player with a substantial disciplinary record taking advantage of an opponent who is in a defenseless position and doing so with significant force.”
Despite good-faith discussions in the offseason about trying to tweak a safer playing style, Wilson started the 2018-19 season in the place he’s been frequently the last few years: In hot water with the DPoS. In the Capitals’ final preseason game, Wilson blindsided Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist with a high hit. Wilson was given a match penalty, and Sundqvist suffered a concussion and shoulder injury.
As the hockey world called on the NHL to send a strong message once and for all, the league levied its harshest penalty yet against Wilson, suspending him for the first 20 games to begin the regular season. The DPoS cited his status as a repeat offender and an “unprecedented frequency of suspensions” to justify the longest suspension in the NHL since 2015. Wilson forfeited $1,260,162.60 in salary.
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.
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 updated from its original publication to reflect Wilson’s complete disciplinary information.