Hulking Tom Wilson drilled Brian Campbell from behind Thursday night and earned a game misconduct. Does the hit warrant a suspension, too? The guess here is no.
Washington Capitals right winger Tom Wilson bludgeoned Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell with a hit from behind Thursday night, and the play was clearly dangerous enough to earn Wilson punishment in the moment. The question now is whether it also warrants supplemental discipline. And this isn’t an easy case by any means. First, let’s watch the replay:
Wilson received a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding here, and that was probably the right call. The NHL defines boarding as follows under rule 41.1:
A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule. Wilson definitely “checked or pushed Campbell in a such a manner that caused him to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously.” And Wilson didn’t appear to avoid contact. The call on the ice is highly subjective and made in the moment, too, so it’s totally understandable that Wilson got five and a game. It looked pretty open-and-shut to the naked eye. Now, what about supplemental discipline? The Department of Player Safety obviously has a lot more time to assess the hit, especially with Wilson’s Capitals not playing until Saturday. A second look suggests the collision doesn’t check every box in the boarding category. For one, was Campbell defenseless? It appears he wasn’t, as he had time to look up, see Wilson, then choose to keep his back turned to Wilson. Here’s Campbell’s over-the-shoulder glance at Wilson before impact:
Secondly, can we argue Wilson did in fact minimize contact here? Directly before impact, he’s gliding, not striding. He’s 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, while Campbell is 5-foot-10, 192. Even Wilson connecting at 60 percent speed will toss a smaller man like Campbell into the boards. And ultimately, the nuts and bolts of this hit are all that matter when assessing whether to suspend Wilson. He got five and a game – and that doesn’t matter. The DOPS and officials operate independently of one another. A penalized hit could earn no suspension, and a non-penalized hit could earn a suspension. Secondly, Wilson has no prior history to take into account here. He’s caused a lot of controversy with his violent hits, most notably the one on the New York Islanders’ Lubomir Visnovsky last spring in the playoffs, but Wilson earned no supplemental discipline for that. He’s not considered a repeat offender. And, even if he was, his prior offenses wouldn’t impact a decision to suspend. They would lengthen a sentence if a suspension was already decided upon, and that’s it. So while Wilson is straddling the line far too often, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he crosses it and earns himself a suspension, the guess here is that this isn’t that time. Boarding, five minutes, game misconduct, sure. But Campbell’s evident awareness of Wilson’s presence before the hit should save Wilson from further discipline. Still, this is a tough case. The bet here is no suspension, but it’s a close enough call that a short ban wouldn’t be a massive surprise either.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin