Did Tom Wilson get hosed? No, he earned this

Caps forward Tom Wilson was suspended 20 games to start the season. AP Photo/Nick Wass

"What-about-ism" is a cancer that eats away our rational discourse. It's a rhetorical crutch. It's a logical fallacy. It's a diversionary tactic, a flare of false equivalency shot into the air in the hopes of drawing attention away from the issue at hand.

Which brings us to T.J. Oshie.

The Washington Capitals forward has been tasked with having to explain away the antics of forward Tom Wilson, who was suspended this week for 20 games after running afoul of the NHL Department of Player Safety four times in his past 105 games. In the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Oshie was asked about Wilson breaking the jaw of Zach Aston-Reese of the Penguins, for which Wilson was suspended three games. Oshie's response: What about Aston-Reese, who needed to be more aware of the freight train coming to collide with him?

On Wednesday, after the Capitals' 7-0 embarrassment of the Boston Bruins on opening night, Oshie was asked about Wilson's latest ban. His response: What about Brad Marchand, who punched up and bloodied an unwilling Lars Eller to earn an instigator and a misconduct?

"I think it's unfortunate for Tom that the league is making an example out of him," Oshie said. "They set the standards, they want to get the dirty stuff out of the game. Which I think at least Tom's play was on the ice and he was hitting the guy that had the puck milliseconds before. And then you see tonight the sucker punches that Lars took in. So they kind of set the standard. Marchand has a history, and we trust that they'll do what they're supposed to do and take care of business."

This was a shrewd bit of deflection, and Oshie's comments ushered in another round of 'What Did Brad Do This Time?' in the media. Because Marchand, like Wilson, has a reputation, and hence is a magnet for such criticism.

So it was with a heavy dose of irony that the Capitals claimed that the league should "take care of" Marchand because of his history, while at the same time arguing that Wilson was unfairly punished due to his own history. "I guess he just has a different rule book, and I think it's garbage, honestly," said forward Devante Smith-Pelly of Wilson.

While there might not be a different rulebook for repeat offenders, there's certainly different rulings for them. When Brendan Shanahan created the Dept. of Player Safety in 2011, one of the foundational tenets was targeting repeat offenders. "A player's history over his career, repeated behavior, certainly plays a very big role. The guys who just do this over and over again have to be dealt with," he said at the time.

But another tenet of the department was attempting to change the behavior of these repeat offenders, which brings us to the fundamental difference between what Brad Marchand did to Eller on Wednesday and what Tom Wilson did to Oskar Sundqvist of the St. Louis Blues last Sunday to earn him a 20-game ban: One is a random offense from an assailant that doesn't have a modus operandi, and the other is another assailant's second predatory hit to the head in the span of 16 games. One is born of hockey's twisted "code," while the other is a violent act that the Dept. of Player Safety exists to remove from the game.

Marchand assaulted Eller because, in his estimation, Eller taunted the Bruins bench after scoring the seventh goal in a 7-0 blowout. He ended last season talking about decreasing his face-licking antics to focus on being a better leader, which in the NHL means less licking and more punching. "That's good," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He's a proud guy. I think Eller celebrated a little on a 7-0 goal. I think that's his prerogative and Marchy let him know that that's not acceptable."

The league did nothing to Marchand, who had four assists in the Bruins' win on Thursday night. The instigator, the five for fighting and the misconduct penalty sufficed. It's an old-school mentality, but Marchand was asking someone to answer the bell for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Eller refused and suffered the consequences. Player Safety isn't wasting its time with that. It's not like Marchand snapped and attacked someone meekly defending him a preseason game, like Max Domi did in earning his suspension from the NHL.

Marchand has been fined five times and suspended six times, but those offenses are a nefarious buffet. There isn't a specific behavior to correct. He's just a miscreant. But there is a behavior to correct with Wilson.


Melrose: Wilson's 20-game suspension 'fair'

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.

He hit Sundqvist in the head. He hit Aston-Reece in the head. He hit Brian Dumoulin of the Penguins in the head, which the league determined was the result of Dumoulin changing his body position. He may have hit Columbus forward Alex Wennberg in the head, but camera angles were inconclusive. He didn't necessarily hit Robert Thomas of the Blues to the head to earn a two-game suspension in Sept. 2017, but the hit was ruled "predatory in nature" by the NHL.

The Sundqvist hit was the last straw: a hit square to the head of a defenseless player. The kind of check that they used to call out the stretchers for before Rule 48 was established. And so the NHL banned him for 20 games, docking him over $1.2 million of his salary, in the hopes that he stops hitting other people in the head. Or at least, at a minimum, with less frequency.

Wilson is appealing, and I'd be surprised if the 20 games isn't reduced by a neutral arbitrator: The leap in games for his suspensions is exceptional, as the NHL admits four bans in just over a year is uncharted territory. Still, it'll remain a considerable suspension, and one that clearly sends a message to Wilson: The next hit to the head will be your last for quite a while.

Both Marchand and Wilson are repeat offenders. It's just that Wilson's offenses are a pattern of recklessness, and the NHL clearly has decided to break the cycle before Wilson breaks someone else. The Capitals can scream "what about Brad Marchand?" all they want. In the eyes of the NHL, Marchand is problematic, but what Wilson's been doing for the last year is the problem.

Jersey Fouls

New season, fresh fouls. Here's one from San Jose:

This is a new one. We've all seen the electrical tape over the nameplate move when a player is traded. But we've never seen the "putting a logo over a logo" move, as this Ottawa Senators Erik Karlsson jersey is doctored with a San Jose Sharks logo. Creative Protest Jersey, and a pass. Speaking of protest jerseys:

The Vegas Golden Knights fan clearly doesn't agree with the NHL's PED suspension of defenseman Nate Schmidt.

We're laughing with Ottawa

The Ottawa Senators are a laughing stock. We get it. They're a team seemingly built for a tank, yet one that doesn't own its first overall pick. They're a team that traded away a generational talent on defense and arguably got more value back when they traded Derick Brassard. They're a team with a frugal owner whose words and actions have fractured the franchise's relationship with its customers. They're a team in such a mire of pitifulness that when pressed to name a single point of optimism for the upcoming season, their general manager could only say "we're a team."

We recite these punchlines like a sermon, praying to the hockey gods that the same fate does not befall our favorite teams. For as bad as things get this season, At Least We're Not Ottawa (amen).

The jokes continued this week when it was revealed that season-seat members had been mass-mailed by the Senators in the week before their opening night game against the Chicago Blackhawks. ESPN acquired a copy of it, and it read in part:

"With the season right around the corner, we want to take this opportunity to reach out and say thank you for joining us as a season-seat member for the 2018-19 hockey season. Last year did not deliver the performance we expected. But we are committed to our plans to rebuild and to make this year better. We know you are a key contributor of energy and encouragement to our team. You are our most devoted fans, especially at times when our team needs it most. As a token of our appreciation we would like to offer you a pair of tickets to the Ottawa Senators Home Opener on Thursday, Oct. 4, against the Chicago Blackhawks using the promo code below. ... Our team is eager to start the season with our most committed fans cheering us on. We look forward to seeing you for the beginning of what promises to be a captivating new season."

Free tickets to a home opener. Ottawa ended up announcing a crowd of 15,858 for their overtime loss to Chicago, much less than capacity.

The offer went on to say that tickets to their Oct. 20 game against the Montreal Canadiens could be purchased for 50 percent off.

A hot ticket, the Senators are not.

As Graeme Nichols pointed out, comping tickets was a practice the team abandoned roundabout 2014, quoting owner Eugene Melnyk as saying, "If you want to kill your future fan base, start giving away tickets to the guy next to you when you paid $150."

Perhaps you can't kill what's already dead ...

Again, it's another reason to point and laugh at the plight of the Senators, but honestly, we hope they can hear our applause over the chortling.

The Senators could have continued to ask their "key contributors of energy and encouragement to their team" to pay full-face ticket prices for an inferior product. Heck, how many team that have declared publicly that they're going into a rebuild have adjusted their tickets accordingly. The answer: Not many.

Ottawa management can read a roster. They know what direction the compass is pointing in the standings. Is this an act of desperation in the hopes that home games aren't played in front of a sea of exposed chair backs in Kanata? Of course. But this considerable gulping of pride is the anthesis from what we expected from a Eugene Melnyk team in these dire times, considering we're talking about an owner that's seemed on the verge of charging for use of the toilets at the arena.

It's not going to be good hockey, but it's going to be cheap hockey, and hopefully that's appreciated by fans still recovering from the whiplash of watching this team's fortunes change.

Listen to ESPN ON ICE

Our hockey podcast has returned! ESPN ON ICE with yours truly and Emily Kaplan dropped its first episode of the new season this week, featuring a great interview with Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour and Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post, who just won the Red Fisher Award, which recognizes to the top overall beat reporter from the 2017-18 season, as voted by her peers. Stream it here or catch it on iTunes here.

Puck headlines

Deep analysis of Elias Pettersson's glorious first goal. He's going to be sickly fun to watch this season.

Now that the NHL to Seattle is all but official, how soon will an NBA team follow?

Really interesting list of the top 20 centers over the last three seasons, with at least one real surprise in the top five.

Remarkably good profile of Leafs GM Kyle Dubas from Bruce Arthur.

From the "well, OK then" department: "NHL star and reigning Stanley Cup champion Alex Ovechkin is set to feature in an online combat game called 'World of Warships' as the commander of a naval vessel."

Meet the NWHL's Player/Coach.

More incredible work from Katie Strang, this time on USA Hockey's failure to publish lists of banned individuals. ($)

This Conan O'Brien bit found a new way to squeeze comedy out of Gritty.

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)

How the Detroit Red Wings have updated their "Hockeytown" branding.

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Emily's terrific piece on Devante Smith-Pelly and race.