Throw the book at Tom Wilson. And preferably a heavy one.
In days before we knew the long-term effects of concussions and repeated hits to the head, it was a highlight reel hit to catch a defenseless player and “clean his clock,” “ring his bell,” “put him on dream street,” or simply to knock him out. Things have supposedly changed, yet in successive games Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson has delivered a shoulder to an opponent’s jaw.
Wilson’s shot to Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 was predatory. This was no accident. There was no late movement or unavoidable circumstances. Wilson chose his target and delivered.
The NHL doesn’t need Tom Wilson or his kind anymore. It’s time to suspend him for more than one game. How about 21 games, just like former Arizona Coyotes forward Raffi Torres whose string of playoff headshots knocked Marian Hossa out for the entire 2011-12 postseason. Torres also couldn’t control himself and was a danger to others.
The NHL took it easy on Torres with 21 games. Not long after, Torres was suspended for 41 games because he didn’t learn his lesson.
Eventually, the league essentially played the Wild West sheriff and rode outlaw players into the sunset, like Matt Cooke and Torres. Now, it’s time to give the same expulsion treatment to Wilson, who was suspended for the first four games this season for a preseason hit to the head of St. Louis Blues rookie Sammy Blais.
And yes, this writer was the resident Pittsburgh champion for Ryan Reaves. This writer is the biggest advocate for old time, grinding, sandpaper third line hockey players who play legally and sometimes extra-legal.
There is honor in those professions. There is no honor in what we witnessed in Game 3.
Sure, you may have been in a car accident. You probably hit the brakes before colliding with the other vehicle. You probably did not hit the accelerator when you realized an accident might occur.
Funny thing, in the eyes of the NHL Department of Player Safety, Wilson was not penalized in Game 2 for hitting Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the head because the NHL felt it was unavoidable. Essentially, they rewarded the Capitals cheap-shot artist for hitting the accelerator.
Emboldened by getting away with the first one, in the second period of Game 3 Wilson went full predator on Penguins rookie forward Zach Aston-Reese. Aston-Reese saw Wilson coming like a freight train. His head didn’t move. In turn, Wilson saw Aston-Reese and lined him up. Wilson nailed Aston-Reese at full speed. Shoulder to the jaw.
Aston-Reese showed some snarl in the first period and challenged Capitals defenseman Dmitri Orlov, twice. So, Wilson came for the Penguins 23-year-old rookie.
Another head shot at full speed. This time there was no doubt about Wilson’s intention. He came for Aston-Reese’s health. And he got it.
One replay confirmed the other. If you’re willing to see it, anyway. Wilson’s and Aston-Reese’s crests were together. Wilson’s shoulder went straight to ZAR’s head. This time, the NHL won’t need to blow it up to a micro-zoom and ignore it anyway. The evidence is there for all to see.
The worst part was Wilson’s laughter. He didn’t even have the honor to answer for his crimes. He chickened out and laughed.
“That’s disrespectful,” Justin Schultz said.
Mike Sullivan offered a backhanded dismissal, in an uncharacteristic purge of details.
“We have to stay focused. We lose a guy to a broken jaw. It’s going to require surgery. And (he has) a concussion because of another high hit to the head. So, at some point, we would hope that the league might do something,” Sullivan said.
We used to call players like Wilson, “Rats.” And that’s the kind term suitable for print in a professional publication.
And the league should do something: Kick Wilson out for a long time. Goodbye. Good riddance.
Wilson’s laughter was fitting, in a way. There would be some respect for answering the bell, but in keeping with entirely unrespectable play, Wilson hid. And mocked his fallen opponent.
For good measure, Wilson tripped Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta which sprung the Capitals on a two on one for the game-winning goal. What the heck, right? If you can bludgeon a player and laugh without consequence, what’s a trip?
The Penguins-Capitals were engaged in fun, firewagon type hockey with high risks and high rewards. It was exciting hockey with plenty of hitting. Clean hits. It was everything which attracts fans to the world’s best game.
And then Wilson showed up. And it became the world’s worst game.
Enough. Head of Player Safety George Parros was in attendance. Parros was the type of a player who would have taken care of a player like Wilson. Here’s hoping he finally does the same as an executive.
If he doesn’t, the frontier justice could lead to an injury even worse than a concussion and broken jaw.
The NHL has a chance to protect its players before anyone else gets seriously injured. Perhaps they’ll take it. And hockey lovers will get the last laugh.