So far this season, the NHL's Department of Player Safety has handed down five suspensions for illegal hits (with another dished out in preseason, a 41-game whopper to repeat offender Raffi Torres), as well as a handful of fines for assorted infractions.
But as reported today by Elliotte Friedman in his 30 Thoughts column, it appears that the Player Safety Department is also attempting to head off additional incidents by meeting with specific players... including one member of the Washington Capitals:
14. The NHL's Player Safety Department met with several repeat offenders in an attempt to reign them in. One was Zac Rinaldo, who escaped suspension a week earlier for hitting Sean Couturier, much to the department's chagrin. While in Arizona during camp, Chris Pronger spoke with Steve Downie and John Scott. New Jersey's Jordin Tootoo was offered the opportunity after being fined for a dangerous trip. Now on the radar? Washington's Tom Wilson. Several teams have complained about his hits. As of yet, no meeting. But it's been requested. [Emphasis added]
It's not all that surprising a revelation, of course. On a list of players who both get under the skin of opponents and walk that fine line between clean and dirty, Wilson is probably near the top.
His first real brush with that line was in his rookie season, December 2013, when he laid out Philly's Brayden Schenn with a punishing hit:
Wilson received a five-minute major for charging (a penalty on which the Flyers scored twice to break a 2-2 tie), another five minutes for fighting Nicklas Grossmann, and a game misconduct, and was later summoned to a hearing with the DoPS - but no supplemental discipline was handed down.
That was his first; other, similar (albeit perhaps not as devastating) hits followed. His most infamous, however, came this past spring when he leveled Islanders' defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in Game 4 of the first-round series, knocking Visnovsky out of the playoffs and making himself Public Enemy Number One in Long Island:
It was a huge moment for the team, and for the series as a whole. With Visnovsky out, the Islanders played with an increasingly banged-up blueline, and the hit (and ensuing fisticuffs) brought a new level of animosity into an already chippy postseason run - for players and fans alike.
That Wilson has played with an edge since his career started is no secret; he's a big, physical presence with the ability to do some damage and a youthful recklessness that has gotten him into trouble - or at least caused him to have to drop the gloves - on more than one occasion. The mere fact that he's so much bigger than many of the players skating against him has led to hits that look all the more punishing simply due to a discrepancy in size.
And yet he's never been suspended, or even fined, for his actions, and this season he's made a concerted effort to control himself a bit more than he perhaps has in the past. While Wilson has racked up 21 penalty minutes so far this season (most on the team), all but five of those were minor penalties. Is his attempt to clean up his act paying off? Perhaps, perhaps not, as his reputation seems to be cemented as that borderline dirty player in the minds of some of his opponents.
Whether or not the League actually takes further steps remains to be seen... but for now, it appears that he's at least on notice.
Just for fun, here's a bit more of his handiwork over the years: