The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has suspended Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson for three games as a result of his high-hit on Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Zach Aton-Reese’s head Tuesday night.
Washington’s Tom Wilson suspended three games for an illegal check to the head on Pittsburgh’s Zach Aston-Reese. https://t.co/rrZ8Hp3XkE
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 2, 2018
The play created a lot of controversy as Aston-Reese suffered a concussion and a broken jaw from the play. While some angles may have shown shoulder to shoulder contact initially on the play, the Department of Player Safety ultimately ruled that the head was the principle point of contact.
The NHL’s explanation of the suspension can be seen below, as can a transcript of the video.
NHL’s Video Transcript
Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, Capitals forward Tom Wilson delivered a high hit to Penguins’ forward Zach Aston-Reese, making the head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable.
As the video shows, the Penguins are breaking the puck out of their own end as the Capitals make a line change. Aston-Reese picks up a pass as he curls through center, then breaks up ice on the rush with Capital Jay Beagle defending. Wilson, heading to the Capitals bench to make a change, sees Aston-Reese coming and prepares himself to defend against the breakout.
Wilson pivots to deliver the check with his left shoulder, then elevates up and into the hit, making the head the main point of contact and causing an injury. This is an illegal check to the head.
The illegal check to the head rule contains two aspects we much establish. First, was the head the main point of contact? Second, was such head contact avoidable?
While some angles make it appear that Wilson does make contact with Aston-Reese’s front shoulder, reverse angles show Wilson’s shoulder making direct contact with the head of Aston-Reese. Aston-Reese’s head snaps backward at contact, independently of his body in a manner consistent with other illegal checks to the head.
While Wilson’s size does cause Aston-Reese’s body to fall to the ice as well, the initial snap of the head, as well as the subsequent medical diagnosis of a broken jaw, shows us that the brunt of the impact is delivered to Aston-Reese’s head.
The head is the main point of contact on this hit. Having established that, we then must determine if such head contact is avoidable under the three conditions set out by rule 48.1.
Two of these are clear – Aston-Reese has not assumed a posture that makes contact unavoidable. Rather, he is relatively upright with his head up to the point where he sees Wilson coming and attempts to brace for contact. In addition, Aston-Reese makes no sudden movement just prior to or simultaneously with contact that contributes to the head being the main point of contact.
This is not a case where sudden movement by Aston-Reese causes the contact.
Finally, this hit does not fall under rule 48.1 subsection 1, where a player delivers a full body check on which head contact was unavoidable.
As Wilson approaches Aston-Reese, his right arm is facing up ice towards Aston-Reese. He has the option to deliver a legal full-body hit that makes full shoulder to shoulder contact. Instead, Wilson pivots in his approach in order to hit Aston-Reese with his left shoulder. This changes his angle of approach, taking him around Aston-Reese’s lead shoulder and causing the hit to be delivered into the center of Aston-Reese’s head and body.
After changing his angle of approach in this manner, Wilson could still deliver a legal full-body check by staying low and hitting through Aston-Reese’s core. Instead, the 6-foot-4 Wilson extends up and into the hit unnecessarily, rising up onto the toes of his skates, then coming completely off of the ice through contact.
Players often extend upward or elevate their bodies through contact on hits as part of a natural hitting motion. While not illegal in itself, the onus is on the player to ensure that this upward motion does not pick the head in a way that makes it the main point of contact.
Here, the combination of Wilson changing his angle of approach and unnecessarily extending upward, causes Wilson to pick the head on a play where head contact was avoidable. If Wilson wishes to deliver this hit, he must either maintain an angle of approach that hits through Aston-Reese’s shoulder and core, stay low to the ice in the execution of the hit or ideally, both.
To summarize, this is an illegal check to the head. Aston-Reese did suffer an injury on the play. Wilson is defined as a repeat offender under the terms of the CBA. The Department of Player Safety has suspended Tom Wilson for three playoff games.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.