Tom Wilson: Choosing His Battles Is A Good Thing For the Caps…and His Reputation

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editorialIn his first three seasons in the NHL, Tom Wilson was known primarily as an enforcer, seemingly willing to drop the gloves on a dime. His physical style of play saw him develop a “reputation” amongst other NHL fan bases and teams. Having delivered some big hits that others have called dirty, controversial, cheap, and questionable, Wilson admitted that it was hard for him to play his game without worrying about getting called for a penalty.

Eventually, that so-called reputation resulted in NHL referees placing a target on No. 43’s back and in him receiving unnecessary penalties. And after a period of questionable calls, Wilson isn’t spending as much time in the penalty box. One reason for that is that the 21-year old right-wing has been choosing the right times to deliver a big hit and is fully aware of HOW he hits, something he may not have been fully conscience of in his first three seasons. For example, his monster hit on Philadelphia Flyers’ center Brayden Schenn in 2013 caused a lot of controversy amongst many, even though it was in all technicality a clean hit. Now, that kind of hit would probably be looked at as a vicious, dirty hit. Wilson seems to know when to retaliate and when to let up on a check.


Wilson’s reputation also took an unfair and unnecessary way when Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman published a story that stated the NHL was having conversations with “dirty” players, and that teams were also mentioning Wilson. For starters, there was absolutely NO need to even mention Wilson’s name in an article with dirty players, as he has NEVER BEEN SUSPENDED OR FINED for ANY of his big hits.


Admittedly, his hit on Schenn was borderline, but it was in all actuality a clean hit. And after a big (not to mention clean) hit on then-New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky, New York media exploded with distaste for Wilson’s game and how he should be suspended. To disprove the notion that Wilson is a dirty player, NoVa Caps will analyze a few of his so-called dirty hits:

Hit on Brayden Schenn
Analysis: Perhaps his most notable, at first glance the hit may seem dirty and worthy of a suspension but it’s not. For one, Wilson hits Schenn in the side, on the shoulder area. Schenn does hit the boards hard, but his head hits at about the same time as his arms. While the fact he hit his head is something to consider (and should be), the NHL Department of Player Safety did not suspend or fine Wilson. Also, Schenn turned to the side, making himself available for contact.

Hit On Lubomir Visnovsky
Analysis: During the Capitals’ first-round playoff series against the New York Islanders in 2015, Wilson delivered a monster check to then-Islanders blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky. After passing the puck behind the Islanders’ net, Visnovsky turned to a freight train as Wilson laid out the 39-year old defenseman. While Wilson’s shoulder does make contact with Visnovsky’s head, it is not specifically targeted by Wilson. In fact, size is a big reason why the hit looks so vicious: Wilson is 6’4″ and 210 pounds, compared to the 5’10”, 192-pound Visnovsky. On skates, Wilson would be even taller than Visnovsky, and with the heavy equipment worn by both, it would make the impact hard. If Visnovsky had been even just 6’1″, the hit would not have looked as “dirty” as many other fans deem it to be.

Hit on Alexander Steen
Analysis: During a game against the St. Louis Blues, Wilson collided with Blues forward Alexander Steen which resulted in Steen ending flat on his rear. The Blues on the ice reacted as all NHL players seem to do nowadays after big, clean hits: they took exception to it. Wilson’s arm does come up, but it hits Steen on the upper-chest and the fact that Steen landed on his butt rather than on his back and gets right back on his feet says more to how “dirty” the hit was than anything.


By Michael Fleetwood

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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