Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was banned 20 games by the NHL on Wednesday for a blindside hit to the head of an opponent during the preseason, a punishment reflecting what the league called an "unprecedented" series of suspensions for the physical player.
Wilson's fourth ban in less than 13 months will cost him nearly a quarter of the 82-game regular season and $1.26 million in salary. It was announced just hours before the reigning Stanley Cup champion Capitals were to raise a banner and open their title defence by hosting the Boston Bruins.
The right winger, who plays on Washington's top line with captain Alex Ovechkin, drew a 10-minute penalty for the hit on St. Louis Blues centre Oskar Sundqvist in the second period of the teams' exhibition game on Sunday. Wilson had an in-person hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety in New York on Wednesday.
The video released 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."
Blues coach Mike Yeo called the hit "predatory."
Wilson's suspension is the longest in the NHL for on-ice play since Raffi Torres of the San Jose Sharks was banned for 41 games in 2015, also for a preseason hit.
The league noted that Wilson "is considered a repeat offender" — and, indeed, this is hardly the first time Wilson has been in trouble for the way he has taken out an opposing player.
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 centre Zach Aston-Reese's jaw and caused a concussion.
"In short, including preseason and post-season games played, this is Wilson's fourth suspension in his last 105 games, an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the historyof the Department of Player Safety," the NHL video says.
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 off-season.
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.
"There are certain ways they are calling things. You need to be aware of how they're making their calls on suspensions. He's a big, strong guy who skates really well. There is a lot of force behind his contact," MacLellan said Tuesday, the day before the suspension was issued. "He needs to be aware of how they're determining what's legal and what's illegal from the league's standpoint."
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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