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Capitals forward Tom Wilson's suspension reduced to 14 games

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, 1:33 p.m.
The Washington Post

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s 20-game suspension for an illegal check to the head has been reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator Shyam Das, the NHL announced Tuesday, ending a six-week appeal process. Wilson has already served 16 games of the original ban, so he could be in the lineup against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night.

The six-game reduction also saves Wilson roughly $378,000 in lost salary. The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended him on Oct. 3 for a hit on St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist in the teams’ preseason finale. That marked Wilson’s fourth suspension in 105 games, including preseason and playoffs. As per the collective bargaining agreement, Wilson’s first appeal through the league’s players’ association had to go through Commissioner Gary Bettman, and on Oct. 25, Bettman upheld the 20-game ban.

As part of Bettman’s 31-page ruling, he wrote that a 20-game suspension might “be the only effective way to deter Mr. Wilson’s future ‘bad conduct.’ “

“I hope that this decision will serve as an appropriate ‘wake-up call’ to Mr. Wilson, causing him to reevaluate and make positive changes to his game,” Bettman wrote.

Wilson then appealed to a neutral arbitrator, a route historically more favorable to players, and it took Das nearly two weeks to reach his conclusion. Das agreed with Bettman that Wilson’s hit violated Rule 48, with the head being the main point of contact, and that the contact was avoidable, but he found fault with the Department of Player Safety’s rationale for a 20-game ban. In the first appeal hearing with Bettman, George Parros, the head of the Department of Player Safety, said Wilson’s three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese in the second round of the playoffs should be treated as six regular-season games. Because the league punishes repeat offenders more seriously, Parros then multiplied that by three for Wilson’s fourth suspension, and added two games for Sundqvist’s injury, a concussion and shoulder injury, to land at 20 games.

But in reviewing the past suspensions of Raffi Torres in 2012 and Patrick Kaleta in 2013, Das concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to support Parros’ multiplier of three. As a result, he used a multiplier of two to get to 12 games, then added two for the injuries.

“The hitting aspect of the game is definitely changing a little bit, and I’ve got to be smart out there and I’ve got to play within the rules,” Wilson said last week. “And at the end of the day, no one wants to be in the situation that I’m in right now. I’ve got to change something because obviously it’s not good to be out and not helping your team.”

Wilson is coming off a career season with 14 goals and 21 assists playing on a first line opposite captain Alex Ovechkin, and the team rewarded his performance with a six-year, $31 million deal this past summer. He’s expected to resume that first-line post immediately, but after what the Department of Player Safety has called “an unprecedented frequency of suspensions” in its history, Wilson will be under a spotlight to change his big-hitting, physical style.

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