Capitals forward Tom Wilson is eligible to return to action immediately, after an arbitrator reduced his suspension for a preseason hit on Oskar Sundqvist from 20 games to 14 games. Wilson has already served 16 games of this suspension, so perhaps he’ll be allowed to put those extra two games served toward his next suspension?
The hit, in case you (or Sundqvist) need your memory refreshed:
The 20 games issued by George Parros and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety were in recognition of “an unprecedented frequency of suspensions in the history of the league’s [DoPS],” and yes, the hit—in freaking preseason—was the culmination of four suspendible offenses in short succession, coming an average of every 25 games played.
Arbitrator Shyam Das acknowledged that Wilson’s track record is unique, but in his ruling reducing the suspension, wrote that the NHL had strayed simply too far from precedent it had set. “There always, or almost always, will be distinctions between cases,” Das wrote, “but that does not negate the need for consistent application of Supplementary Discipline[.]”
Das’s full decision can be found below, if you want it. It’s 43 pages and dry. I’ll do you a solid and try to sum up the foundation the ruling: Das took issue with Parros’s decision to use a “3x multiplier” in determining the suspension, i.e. taking the length of his last suspension* and then multiplying that by three because of all the repeat offenses.
*This is actually a little more complicated. Wilson’s last suspension was three games, but because it came in the playoffs when suspensions are universally acknowledged to be shorter, Parros (and now Das) said it was equivalent to six regular-season games. So multiply that by the 3x multiplier and you get 18 games. Add two for the injury to Sundqvist and you get 20.
Das essentially wrote that a 2x multiplier would have been more consistent with how DoPS has handed out suspensions in the past. He primarily cited a 10-game suspension to Patrick Kaleta for a 2013 headshot on Jack Johnson. “Kaleta had three suspensions and a fine over a span of 94 games and considerably less total on-ice time than Wilson had in the 105 games during which he had three suspensions and one pre-season suspension,” Das wrote, noting that Kaleta’s previous suspension had been for five games—thus going from five to 10 represents a 2x multiplier.
And that’s how Das settled on 14 games. It all sounds empirical, but can feel a little arbitrary when spelled out this bluntly:
(Not that the NHL’s initial suspension was any less arbitrary.)
Here’s Das’s nut graf, emphases mine:
The difficulty with the 20-game suspension at issue is the methodology used to “multiply” the most recent prior discipline — the equivalent, as upheld above, of 6 games — by a factor of 3x. Parros decided on this multiplier as part of his formula, which the Commissioner concluded was “eminently reasonable and appropriate,” after reviewing prior suspensions issued to six other players who had received three suspensions within an 18-month period. 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.
There’s no obviously correct answer here, but the factors Das (and, originally, DoPS) were asked to weigh can at least be stated relatively succinctly. Was Tom Wilson’s “unprecedented” history of discipline quite unprecedented enough to punish him as harshly as the NHL did? The arbitrator said no.
Here’s the full decision: