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Play Of The Day: Wilson the Wreckingball Clown

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Our favorite idiot gets cast away with two suspensions (finally) in one preseason.

Washington Capitals v New York Islanders - Game Four
“But I’m an idiot, so the rules shouldn’t apply to me.”
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

There’s a good chance you missed it.

It’s the preseason, after all, and there was nothing particularly egregious about this hit. But it was noteworthy because it was the first suspension handed down by George Parros since he took over as head of the NHL Department of Player Safety (DOPS). And because the suspension was handed down on our favorite Capitals idiot, Tom Wilson.

Wilson received a two-game suspension for his late hit on Blues forward Robert Thomas. The suspension was for a violation of Rule 56 for Interference, as Wilson came in very late, well after Thomas had relinquished control of the puck. This is the NHL’s explanatory video on the suspension:

Believe it or not, this was the first suspension of Wilson’s career (he has been fined twice). Putting aside my disdain for this player, I don’t think this hit, in isolation, deserved more than a two-minute minor for Interference. But it was a preseason suspension. Which makes me think it was issued solely to establish a prior offense on Wilson's record, so that he will be considered a “repeat offender” the next time he inevitably takes a run at someone.

(This "next time" has already happened. After serving this two-gamer, Wilson received a five-minute major for Boarding in a subsequent preseason game against St. Louis. He has been suspended four games by the DOPS in a suspension announced today. I can’t even keep up with this clown.)

Here’s what Wilson said after the ruling came down:

“It’s a fast game, and it’s tough to make those decisions at that speed...Every time you make a body check, you’re making a split-second decision...”

The old “split-second decision” defense is almost always without merit. Everybody else is adjusting at the same game speed. Wilson needs to modify his behavior before he’s faced with the split-second decision, since he just so happens to come to the same decision every single time he’s faced with it (to hit, rather than hold back). It would probably help for him to remember the game of hockey revolves around the hockey puck, and he needs to consider where the puck is before going and laying somebody the fuck out. In the NHL’s words (bold emphasis mine):

“Players not in possession of the puck are never eligible to be checked. However, the Interference rule provides a brief window during which a player who initiates a hit while his opponent is in possession of the puck may legally finish a check. This is not such a check.”

And as to why the penalty wasn’t enough:

In addition to the lateness of the check, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit...with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force, knocking Thomas to the ground.

At this point there are probably alarm bells going off in your head and, assuming Tom Wilson didn’t just elbow you in the temple, I think I know why. It’s because this hit reminds you, as it does me, of the hit Wilson delivered on Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of the two teams’ brutal, 7-game playoff series in 2015.

Whoops, I went back a couple minutes too far there. I didn’t mean to show you Wilson’s knee-on-knee hit on Josh Bailey, sorry about that. Oh gee wiz, he’s such a classy fucker that Tom Wilson. Plays the game hard and clean. And look at how incensed he is after the whistle, clearly livid that Bailey was able to get up from that hit and continue with his NHL career.

OK, so the Caps kill this powerplay off, as they did every single other hapless Isles PP in this series. Tom Wilson exits the penalty box and that’s when he proceeds to do this:

The question that comes to mind when watching this clip is which rule did Wilson violate most blatantly? There’s a case to be made for NHL Rules 42 (Charging) (the call on the ice), 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) and 51 (Interference).

There’s also a case to be made that the hit was a clean one. This requires only that you ignore the actual rules and focus on either what hockey used to look like growing up or what team you favor personally. The benefit here is this obviously has that delusional/lazy appeal to it which I personally think is great. This is the route the Caps fans over at Russian Machine Never Breaks (RMNB) decided to take, first in a post (unironically) titled “Tom Wilson Penalized For Hitting Too Hard” and then in a follow-up article on both teams’ reactions to the hit.

Please note these only come off as Onion-like takes; they’re not actually intended to be. When they call this a “shoudler to chest blow” but then use a screenshot of Wilson’s elbow making direct contact with Lubo’s chin during his follow-through, they’re not doing that as a joke, so try not to laugh.

Notice how seamlessly they dispense with the ridiculous notion that their boy did anything wrong here; in one tidy sentence, RMNB dismisses all three of these penalties in declaring the play a pefectly-legal hockey check:

The puck was there, Wilson never left his feet, and he hit Visnovsky square in the chest.

Like I said, coming to this conclusion necessarily requires that you ignore either the rule itself and/or reality. What do I mean?

On Interference:

“The puck was there...”

The puck was absolutely not “there.” Wilson’s check was not “rendered immediately following [Lubo’s] loss of possession,” as was required by the rule. We know this because if Wilson was paying the puck any attention whatsoever, he would have just taken control of it in the corner rather than skate right by it. Lubo had fanned on the bouncing puck and it wasn’t even close to being “there” when Wilson plowed into him.

I'm not even applying the standard used in the above video (that the check be “initiated while the target still has the puck”) (which he'd obviously fail to meet) since that was just issued last week.

This was just lazily regurgitating what Caps coach Barry Trotz said after the game, practically verbatim. But the coach is part of the series; he’s supposed to have his team’s back no matter what. A fan who is presumably describing what happened should probably take into account, and not ignore, what happened. Presumably.

On Charging:

“...Wilson never left his feet...”

The Caps did not think Wilson left his feet. The Islanders did. It doesn’t fucking matter. You do not need to leave your feet to commit a Charging violation. This is the relevant text, with emphasis mine (in bold):

A...penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner...”

You do not need to leave your feet. That Wilson actually did leave his feet once contact was initiated is irrelevant to me. It makes sense that this is what was called on the ice because in real time all you can tell is this hit was predatory and violent as fuck. It was a charge.

On Illegal Check to the Head:

“...and he hit Visnovsky square in the chest.”

I’m really not sure what to tell you if you can look at this video or the below screenshots and come away believing this idiocy. His shoulder’s “main point of contact” was Lubo’s face, which is on his head, and this contact was easily “avoidable” as the puck was already at the boards before Wilson even enters the screen. This isn’t rocket science.

Recall the 2013 clarification of Rule 48.1 adding “an onus on the hitter to avoid recklessness.” Obviously they argue here that Lubo lowered his head and indeed this is a potential mitigating factor to be “considered” in each case. It does not completely excuse the fucking clear-as-day recklessness shown by Wilson in launching himself so late and so violently at Lubo's face.

Obviously the pivotal mistake RMNB makes with this “shoulder to chest” drivel is they failed to doctor the animated GIF to reflect this alternative fact. I’d actually offer to do it for them retroactively but this isn’t a play I feel like watching over and over while editing the position of these players' arms and heads to make this utter fantasy come to life.

I can only imagine how RMNB would’ve covered the Hunter/Turgeon incident back in 1993.

And try to resist the notion that how you see this hit depends on which team you root for. See here for an unbiased application of the rules to this play, complete with screenshots of its own. Even former Rangers dirt-bag Matthew Barnaby of all people thought he “missed something” when the NHL inexplicably decided not to have a hearing on the hit (which he thought was both Charging and Interference).

That the DOPS chose not to have a hearing doesn’t prove anything other than its own incompetence, something that seemingly every hockey outlet under the sun has touched upon the last few years.

Poll

Which penalty was Tom Wilson most deserving of when he viciously assaulted Lubomir Visnovsky?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    (A) Rule 42 Charging (like the referee called it)
    (24 votes)
  • 3%
    (B) Rule 56 Interference (it was late AF)
    (5 votes)
  • 70%
    (C) Rule 48 Illegal Check to the Head (the face is part of the head)
    (90 votes)
  • 7%
    (D) No penalty; it was a clean check. (I have a right to be an idiot)
    (9 votes)
128 votes total Vote Now

While I personally think any of these three penalties could’ve been called, the most blatant violation committed on this play, to me, was Interference. Lubo was nowhere near the puck and, as with the play for which he was just suspended, Wilson could've just taken control of it himself. But when he’s got that tunnel vision going, the puck becomes a secondary concern.


Which brings us, finally, to our Play Of The Day. Thomas Hickey had really grown as a defenseman while paired with the Silver Fox and he clearly took exception with the hit, immediately coming to his defense. So when the two teams met the following season on 2/4/2016, Hickey extracted a small measure of revenge for his fallen partner:

This video is best paired with a look back on Dom’s hilariously-titled post, “Thomas Hickey Penalized for Hitting Tom Wilson Too Hard.” In it, Dom somehow pulls off the impossible by admitting that a player on his favorite team actually committed a penalty. Bravo, Dom.

These aren’t complicated cases here. Both hits were dirty. Both hits were obvious penalties. One hit involved a much more vicious, predatory, forceful targeting of an opponent’s head, a hit that was initiated with no regard for the puck or when his opponent last controlled it, a hit that essentially ended his opponent’s career. If either hit could be called “a simple assault” (as RMNB, apparently with not a hint of irony, called Hickey's hit), it sure as shit ain’t Hickey’s.

I sincerely do not wish upon Wilson the kind of head injury he inflicted upon Visnovsky. But since he’s either unable or unwilling to modify his behavior, I’m not gonna apologize for enjoying Hickey’s relatively minor pair of cheap shots here.

I’d rather do that than pretend like something obviously dirty was clean so I can go laugh about it with other fans and throw WWE commentary over it and oh man so awesome, so funny yeah too bad the other guy's career ended but whatcha gonna do? That’s a good, clean hockey check from our boy! Fucking spare me.

Reading through those comments is funny. Everyone’s gotta throw in an “oh yea it was obviously clean” qualifier before every comment. Just take a piece of bullshit, declare it out loud, then keep repeating it over and over and over again and it’ll be true. It’s the DC way.


The real shame here is Tom Wilson has the tools to be a much better player. Though it was somewhat of a reach, there's a reason the Capitals drafted him no. 16 overall back in 2012, five picks after taking Filip Forsberg at no. 11. (Please note my invoking the dreadful Forsberg-Erat trade is irrelevant to this post but I’m forcing it in here just to show you there's plenty of room to be a biased fan without also being delusional.) But it hasn't quite panned out the way George McPhee envisioned at the time.

Fittingly, Tom Wilson came highly recommended by former Capitals captain and coach, Dale Hunter.

Go ahead and pick your jaw up off the floor, I'll wait. Just be careful when you pop it back in, as no. 43 in red might be lurking behind any corner, looking to bash your fucking face in when you least expect it.

Lord knows it wouldn't be the first time.