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Is Tom Wilson a Marked Man?

Posted January 13, 2014

Tom Wilson. (Caps Outsider)

It’s no secret that Tom Wilson likes to fight. He’s a big guy, he’s a good hockey player, and he plays hard. In a short period of time, Wilson has gotten the reputation as a NHL tough guy. He has become a target for other players who like to duke it out, but has he also become a marked man by the officials?

On December 17, Wilson violently checked Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brayden Schenn, which resulted in Schenn being injured. The Flyers’ center missed a game, but fortunately was not seriously injured. Wilson was immediately charged with a five-minute major and game misconduct. He was also scheduled for a mandatory telephone hearing with the Director of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan, to discuss the incident, assess the situation and see if a suspension was warranted. To the delight of Caps’ fans, Wilson received no further punishment—or did he?

No matter how the league decided to deal with Wilson, the fact remains that we all saw it. The players and coaches saw it, the fans saw it, and the refs saw it. And we all saw it repeatedly. Replay after replay was broadcast on sports talk shows and on the news. Even though the refs are taught to be unbiased and not let one game or one incident reflect upon another, they’re human. They know Wilson now, and they’re watching him.

Take, for example, Sunday afternoon’s game against the Buffalo Sabres. Wilson was sent to the penalty box for a charging call against Buffalo defenseman, Jamie McBain. Charging? He put his shoulder down and checked his opponent—legally. Radio and televisions analysts agreed that it was a hard hit, but a legal check. The Sabres scored on that power play which tied the game. It was their only tally in regulation. Their next would come in the shoot out as the Caps fell to the Sabres, 2-1.

So, is Wilson’s “bad boy” reputation a liability for the Caps? Wilson has racked-up 92 penalty minutes so far this season. He ranks sixth overall in the NHL. The game of hockey has always been known for its enforcers, like Caps former coach Dale Hunter and safety guru, Brendan Shanahan, himself, with 2,000 career penalty minutes. But when they cost a team points and, ultimately the game, is it worth it?

Wilson will, undoubtedly, continue to play hard. He’s a rookie, and he’s only 19. He wants to make his mark and leave a good impression on the coaches and the fans. Let’s just hope he’ll help the Caps by spending more time on the ice and less time sitting in the penalty box in the future.

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