Washington Capitals' Tom Wilson suspended seven games by NHL for hit on Boston Bruins' Brandon Carlo

Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was suspended seven games on Saturday for his hit that sent Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo to the hospital.

Under terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Wilson will forfeit $311,781.61.

The NHL suspended Wilson under its rule against boarding, saying that Carlo was in a defenseless position.

In its video explaining the suspension, the NHL acknowledged the validity of the Capitals' argument that players can deliver legal hits on vulnerable opponents. However, it was the direct contact with Carlo's head that led to the suspension.

"While there are aspects of this hit that may skirt the line between suspendable and non-suspendable, it is the totality of the circumstances that caused this play to merit supplemental discipline. What separates this hit from others is the direct and significant contact to a defenseless player's face and head, causing a violent impact with the glass," said the NHL in its suspension video. It also cited Wilson's "substantial disciplinary record" as a factor, as he's been suspended four times and fined twice in his career.

The suspension is subject to NHLPA appeal, first to commissioner Gary Bettman and then to a neutral arbitrator.

With 90 seconds left in the first period of Friday night's game in Boston, Wilson delivered a high hit to Carlo in the corner behind the Bruins' net. Carlo's head slammed against the glass, then he fell to the ice and remained there for several minutes. Wilson was not penalized.

The Bruins said Carlo was taken from the arena in an ambulance to a Boston hospital. The team announced he was released and sent home on Saturday morning, but offered no update on his condition.

"Clearly looked to me like he got him right in the head. A defenseless player, a predatory hit from a player that's done that before," Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I don't understand why there wasn't a penalty called on the ice. They huddled up, but I did not get an explanation why."

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette believed Wilson delivered "a hockey hit" on the play.

"If this is a suspendable play, then all hitting is probably going to have to be removed," Laviolette said, "because he didn't take any strides, he didn't target the head, the player was upright against the boards and Tom hit him hard. I hope the player is OK, but for me, the call was correct on the ice last night. This kind of hit happens so many times during the course of the game."

The department of player safety initially evaluated Wilson's hit on whether it was a check-to-the-head penalty. That wouldn't have been a solid case, based on the rule: Carlo's head wasn't the primary point of contact, and it appeared Wilson was attempting a full bodycheck rather than "picking" the head of his opponent.

But the hit was analyzed and scrutinized internally until the NHL settled on a penalty that had a better chance to earn Wilson a suspension: a boarding infraction.

According to the criteria for Rule 41 on boarding, Wilson's hit caused Carlo to "impact the boards violently," and it was argued that Carlo was "in a defenseless position" that should have resulted in Wilson minimizing contact.

According to multiple sources, this is the first NHL boarding suspension in recent memory that didn't involve a player hitting an opponent from behind. But there's nothing in Rule 41 that states that a boarding call is reserved for a hit from behind. In fact, the NHL has a separate rule for "Checking From Behind."

Once it determined Wilson violated the boarding rule, the NHL had to determine how to punish one of its most notorious players. While the 2020-21 season was truncated to 56 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no prorating of Wilson's suspension. The league treated it as it would any regular-season ban.

Wilson has been suspended four times in his 543-game NHL career, all of them coming in a 105-game span from 2017 to '18:

* Sept. 22, 2017: Two preseason games, for a late hit on Robert Thomas of the Blues in a preseason game.

* Oct. 3, 2017: Four regular-season games for boarding Sammy Blais of the Blues in a preseason game.

* May 2, 2018: Three playoff games for an illegal check to the head of Zach Aston-Reese of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who suffered a broken jaw and a concussion.

* Oct. 3, 2018: 20 regular-season games, which were reduced to 14 on an NHLPA appeal to an arbitrator, for an illegal check to the head of Oskar Sundqvist of the Blues in a preseason game.

Wilson hadn't received a suspension since that Sundqvist hit.

The department of player safety does not consider a player a repeat offender if he goes 18 months without a suspension, a standard that Wilson cleared. But that designation is used only "to determine the amount of salary forfeited" in a player's next suspension. The NHL still factors in the player's prior suspensions and fines when determining supplemental discipline, even if the player isn't technically a "repeat offender" any longer.

Why did Wilson get seven games when his last suspension was for 20 games?

Section 18.1 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement states that "players who repeatedly violate League Playing Rules will be more severely punished for each new violation." This doesn't mean that Wilson's next suspension was going to be greater than his last suspension (20 games). The way the department of player safety interprets "more severely punished" is that the repeat offender would receive a greater punishment for an offense than a first-time offender would -- especially if the offense isn't part of a pattern for the repeat offender.

For example, if Wilson's next suspension had been for a stick foul, it would have been significantly longer than that for a first-time offender, but would not have been higher than his previous suspension for an illegal check to the head. Had this been an illegal check to the head -- a play that previously earned Wilson a 20-game ban -- it's possible that Wilson would have earned the longest suspension of his career.

The NHL also took Wilson's 29 months without a suspension into account. Part of the department of player safety's purview is to reform players.

"I think Tom has figured out how to play the game and stay off our radar. I hope it stays that way," George Parros, the head of the department of player safety, told ESPN in March 2019. "We've seen clips of him delivering good, clean hits and laying off hits that might have gotten him in trouble before."