Capitals forward Tom Wilson suspended 20 games

Melrose: Wilson's 20-game suspension 'fair' (1:24)

Barry Melrose sees Tom Wilson's 20-game suspension for a high check as "fair" for the NHL, which is trying to crack down on dangerous contact to the head. (1:24)

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was suspended 20 games for a hit to the head on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced after an in-person hearing on Wednesday.

Wilson is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and, based on his average annual salary, will forfeit $1,260,162.60.

It's the fourth suspension for Wilson since last September -- a span of 105 games -- including a three-game ban in the 2018 postseason en route to winning the Stanley Cup with the Capitals. The 20-game ban is the longest for the NHL since the 41-game ban for San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres on Oct. 3, 2015, for a hit to the head of Ducks winger Jakob Silfverberg. Like Wilson, Torres had been a repeat offender, but his suspensions were nowhere near as frequent.

The Department of Player Safety said it had no formula for a player who had been suspended this often in the modern era, including just 16 games between suspensions.

According to the NHL and NHLPA agreement in the collective bargaining agreement: "Players that repeatedly violate league rules will be more severely punished for each new violation."

On Sunday in a preseason game, Wilson made significant contact with Sundqvist's head after the Blues forward shot the puck at the Capitals' goal. He was eligible to be hit in that spot on the ice, but Wilson targeted his head rather than making a full body check. According to the Department of Player Safety, contact with the head was avoidable on this play, and "this hit was entirely in Wilson's control."

According to sources, Wilson and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan questioned whether the contact was primarily with the head and whether Sundqvist had put himself in a vulnerable position.

The Department of Player Safety argued that the hit wasn't outside of its standards -- that this was less about "getting" Tom Wilson and more about an illegal check to the head.

Wilson has been suspended three other times since Sept. 22, 2017. He was banned for two preseason games for interference on Robert Thomas of the Blues, leaping into a hit near the St. Louis bench. On Oct. 1, 2017, he was given a four-game suspension in the regular season for boarding Samuel Blais of the Blues. Then came the most infamous Wilson suspension: three playoff games for breaking the jaw of Zach Aston-Reese of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a hit that occurred in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Department of Player Safety told ESPN during the Penguins series that the combination of an "extreme injury" and an "extreme history" were the factors in deciding on three playoff games for Wilson. At the time, Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said that Wilson's reputation played into that ban.

"That comes with the territory. If he's involved, it's going to get more attention than other guys," Orpik said. "But for Tommy to be effective, he has to play the same way he plays. I don't think he can approach games differently. He does a lot of good things for us, and at times, maybe he straddles that line a bit. Some people aren't happy with it, but like I said, he does a lot of good things for our team."

Wilson can appeal to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman; since the suspension is more than six games, Wilson is also eligible to appeal right to a neutral arbitrator.

The suspension was announced hours before the Capitals raise their Stanley Cup banner and open the regular season against the Bruins.