Ask most fans and players who are not associated with the Washington Capitals who the biggest villain in the NHL is and Tom Wilson would be very, very high on the list. We all know what Kyle Okposo thinks of Wilson. Last spring during the first round of the playoffs, Okposo referred to Wilson as, “an idiot.”
Wilson often hits to hurt and crosses the line with his bodychecks at times. And he chirps, a lot. But it’s hard to believe his reputation wasn’t a major factor with his match penalty and ejection in the Capitals 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators Wednesday night. Take a look at the hit on Curtis Lazar that earned him the match penalty and a game misconduct late in the third period and decide for yourself whether Wilson deserved to be ejected.
It’s interesting to note that two analysts, both former NHLers with solid credentials as observers of the game, saw the hit entirely differently. Color analyst Craig Laughlin of CSN Washington called it “shoulder to shoulder,” while Sportsnet analyst Greg Millen surmised, “Head shot, no question. Lazar bent down a little bit, mind you…but there’s no doubt that’s contact to the head and that’s why he’s out of the game.”
Senators enforcer Chris Neil, who immediately went after Wilson and got his own minor for roughing, and Senators coach Dave Cameron, both thought it was a headshot. Cameron said tomorrow, "will tell the tale," as to the extent of Lazar's injury. He's already had a concussion this season.
Your trusty correspondent agrees with Laughlin on this one. There was nothing about that hit that looked like anything even close to a violation of Rule 48. It was a hit that looked a lot worse due to the fact that Lazar didn’t seem to have his chinstrap on tightly enough and his helmet became dislodged on impact.
Referee Wes McCauley, who was the trailing referee on the play, called the match penalty, which means he obviously thought Wilson deliberately attempted to injure Lazar with a hit to the head.
But from this vantage point. Not a single Rule 48 provision looks to be violated. Contrary to what Millen said, the head did not look like the principal point of contact and, if anything, as Millen pointed out, Lazar at the very least put himself in a vulnerable position.
Certainly, Wilson has done a lot worse in his career, which goes back to his reputation. And it looks from this corner that Tom Wilson was kicked out of this game for being Tom Wilson. He shouldn’t be suspended for being Tom Wilson. It would be a surprise if, upon further review, the NHL does not choose to suspend Wilson and rescinds the match penalty.
When you have body contact in a game, sometimes bad things happen and people get hurt. It's bound to happen occasionally and it's not necessarily anyone's fault. And that's what it looks like happened to Tom Wilson. Because sometimes even villains are innocent.