Capitals' Tom Wilson has suspension reduced to 14 games

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson had his 20-game suspension reduced to 14 games by neutral arbitrator Shyam Das, a dozen days after it was upheld by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Pursuant to this ruling, Wilson is eligible to play in Washington's game on Tuesday night at the Minnesota Wild.

Wilson was banned by the NHL Department of Player Safety for a hit to the head on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in a preseason game played on Sept. 30. He was considered a repeat offender under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, as it was his fourth suspension since September 2017 -- a span of 105 games. That included a three-game ban in the 2018 postseason during the Capitals' run to the Stanley Cup.

"First good day in a while," Wilson said. "It was definitely a nice text to get."

Based on his average annual salary, he was scheduled to forfeit $1,260,162.60. Instead, Wilson will have $378,048.78 in salary returned to him, after having already served 16 games of that suspension, which began on Oct. 3.

The Capitals tweeted their happiness over the ruling.

Wilson said he's had time to think about his physical game and what he can do in the league.

"Putting myself in a good position to not have the ball in their court. Make sure I'm controlling my end of it, that I'm controlling what I can do, because at the end of the day missing 15, 16 games, it can't happen," Wilson said.

Wilson said he doesn't want to be thought of as a goon.

"The game is getting faster and more skilled," he said. "When there are those big hits, it's such a hot topic. It's instantly scrutinized. ... At the end of the day I don't want my name to be put in that category."

Wilson first appealed the 20-game ban, the longest in the NHL since the 41-game ban for San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres in 2015, to Bettman. He announced on Oct. 25 that the suspension had been upheld. Bettman dismissed the NHLPA arguments that Sundqvist's head wasn't the main point of contact and that a 20-game suspension was extreme and unprecedented.

"In my judgement, a 20-game regular-season suspension assessed to Mr. Wilson reflects and accounts for appropriately the unique combination of factors involved in this case, including the gravity of the offense, Mr. Wilson's prior disciplinary record (particularly within the relatively short period of time in which it was amassed), the multiple warnings and guidance he has received from the DPS and the seriousness of the injury," Bettman wrote.

Wilson and the NHLPA then appealed to a neutral arbitrator, as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. In his ruling, Das agreed with the NHL that the head was likely the main point of contact on the hit and that this contact was avoidable, meaning that Wilson's hit was in clear violation of Rule 48, banning illegal checks to the head.

Where Das disagreed, rather starkly, with the NHL was in the calculation for the 20-game suspension for Wilson.

Simply put, it was some fuzzy math by the league.

George Parros, director of the NHL's Department of Player Safety, used six other players who had been suspended at least three times in an 18-month span as examples for his calculation of Wilson's ban. That included the 10-times multiplier applied to Torres in 2015.

"Parros concluded that 3x was an appropriate multiplier, that Wilson's most recent suspension for three playoff games should be treated as equivalent to six regular season games, and that two games should be added based on the serious injury to Sundqvist. That is how the 20-game (3x2x3+2) suspension was determined," Das wrote. "While not scientific, the Commissioner insists this was a reasonable way to impose discipline in this case to best ensure this does not happen again."

But Das disagreed, for two reasons. First was a matter of intent: The severity of Wilson's suspension was partially influenced by the danger of the play and what Bettman called "consistently dangerous" hits administered by the Capitals forward.

But Parros categorized Wilson's hit on Sundqvist as not exhibiting an intent to injure, and noted in his earlier testimony that only six out of 250 hits by Wilson last were flagged by Player Safety. The NHLPA argued that the merits of each of his previous suspensions had been hotly debated within the Department of Player Safety as well, an indication that they weren't "consistently dangerous."

As for the NHL's math, Das sided with the NHLPA, which contended that the "multiplier" formula to reach 20 games was "pulled out of thin air."

Wrote Das: "There is no evidence that any specific 'multiplier,' as such, was used to determine the discipline in those (or other) prior instances of repeated rule violations, and the after-the-fact multipliers calculated by Parros for purposes of this case varied widely from negative numbers to 10x in Torres' case. Parros explained that Wilson's record of four suspensions within 18 months was unprecedented and that a multiplier of 3x seemed appropriate taking into account this was his third repeat offense. Setting aside, for the moment, whether 20 games was reasonable under all relevant circumstances, this explanation is too thin a reed to substantially support the application of a multiplier of 3x as used in Parros' methodology."

Das also agreed with the NHLPA's use of former Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta as precedent. In 2013, Kaleta was suspended 10 games after his fourth run-in with Player Safety -- a fine and three suspensions, including injuring two players with illegal checks to the head. Das felt these penalties in a short time frame were similar to Wilson's record. The difference was that Kaleta was given a 10-game ban on a play that didn't result in an injury. Yet Bettman, in his ruling on that suspension five years ago, called 10 games "a meaningful increase in the quantum of discipline."

Wrote Das: "I am not persuaded that there is substantial evidentiary support for the League's determination to impose a 20-game suspension on Wilson. In particular, the evidentiary record does not establish a reasonable basis for use of the 3x multiplier employed in this case or the wide disparity between Wilson's 20-game suspension and the 10-game suspension imposed in Kaleta under substantially comparable circumstances, other than the injury to the opposing player, which was separately factored into Wilson's discipline."

Hence, the suspension was reduced to 14 games.

This is the second time recently that Das has overruled an NHL suspension. He dropped Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson's 27-game suspension, handed out for an offseason domestic assault incident, to 18 games on Oct. 12. He was also the arbitrator who overturned Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun's 50-game suspension for a positive drug test in 2012.