The verdict is in: Tom Wilson’s 20 game suspension will hold up.
After an appeal hearing that lasted over seven hours last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced his decision to uphold the 20 game suspension given to the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson. The suspension was dealt on October 3rd after a particularly brutal hit to St. Louis Blues forward, Oskar Sundqvist, which resulted in a concussion and shoulder injury.
While a 20 game suspension for a dirty check might seem high to most, it was clear from the beginning that the NHL’s position was to scare Wilson straight, as this was not his first offence. The ruling has become a hefty price to pay for the current Stanley Cup Champions, who seem to have been a little lost without Wilson in their now rotating lineups.
It is likely that Wilson and the NHLPA will attempt a second appeal to a neutral arbitrator. However, according to the Washington Post‘s Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Getting games back in an appeal could have significant financial ramifications… Wilson forfeited roughly $1.2 million as part of the discipline, based on his contract’s average annual value of $5.17 million, and while he received a signing bonus of $5 million, his actual salary this season is $1.1 million. Unless the suspension is reduced, he won’t see another pay check for the rest of the season.”
While Caps fans are enraged over the ruling, this seems to have caused shockwaves throughout the hockey community for a completely separate reason.
That reason’s name is Austin Watson.
Back in July, Watson (of the Nashville Predators) pleaded no-contest in a case of domestic assault against his girlfriend, Jenn Guardino. Originally, he was condemned to a suspension of 27 games. After the NHLPA filed an appeal with a neutral arbitrator, Watson’s suspension was reduced to 18 games.
18 games to Watson for hitting a woman. 20 games to Wilson for hitting an opponent.
The NHL has been criticized for being the only organization out of the top four American leagues without a clear domestic abuse policy, and despite the details of this case, there has been no motion to adopt one.
Could Wilson still appeal with a neutral arbitrator and have his suspension lessened just like Watson? Yes. But by the time that the ruling would be declared, Wilson will have missed the majority of his 20 games. He’s already missed 8 so far.
The message was heard the minute Watson’s suspension was shortened. Moreover, the message was heard when the NHLPA decided to appeal it. Female fans of the NHL, young men growing up hoping to one day make the league… this is okay. It is okay to hit a woman. The sentence won’t be that bad, and hey! There’s always a possibility it will be reduced.
It’s an enraging situation, and one that is not without public opinion. Wilson will receive the same neutral arbitrator as Watson should he decide to appeal once more. The next steps in this case are crucial to the NHL and NHLPA’s ability to maintain a healthy image. If Wilson were to be denied a game reduction, it would be a metaphorical announcement from the league stating, “We don’t care.”
It has not yet been announced whether or not Wilson will appeal to a neautral arbitrator.