NEW YORK (AP) — Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension for an illegal check to an opponent’s head in a preseason game has been upheld by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman’s decision was announced Thursday, a week after a hearing that lasted nearly 7½ hours.
Bettman ruled that the initial ruling by the Department of Player Safety on Oct. 3 “was supported by clear and convincing evidence.”
Wilson’s fourth ban in less than 13 months is costing him nearly a quarter of the 82-game regular season — only five NHL players have been suspended longer for on-ice play — and $1.26 million in salary.
The right winger can now appeal to a neutral arbitrator.
Wilson was ejected for the hit on St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist in the second period of the teams’ exhibition game on Sept. 30.
The video released earlier this month to explain the punishment says: “Wilson delivers a high, forceful hit, which makes Sundqvist’s head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable and causes an injury.” It also admonishes him for taking “a poor angle of approach.”
Wilson’s suspension was the longest handed down by the league since Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks was banned a record 41 games in 2015, also for a preseason hit.
In the original ruling, the league noted that Wilson “is considered a repeat offender” — and, indeed, this is hardly the first time the sixth-year player has been in trouble for the way he has taken out an opponent.
He was suspended twice because of preseason hits a year ago, then had to sit out three games during the playoffs for a check to the head that broke Pittsburgh Penguins center Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw and caused a concussion.
The Capitals see Wilson as a vital part of the franchise, and general manager Brian MacLellan signed him to a $31 million, six-year contract this offseason.
Wilson doubled his career high with 14 goals and set a new mark with 35 points last season, when he was the only NHL forward with 30-plus points and 90-plus penalty minutes, finishing with 187 and a league-high 41 minors. Then he contributed 15 points in 21 games during Washington’s run to its first championship.
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