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Capitals’ Tom Wilson suspended seven games by NHL for head shot on ‘defenseless’ Brandon Carlo

Brandon Carlo held his head after being hit by the Capitals' Tom Wilson in Friday night's game.
Brandon Carlo held his head after being hit by the Capitals' Tom Wilson in Friday night's game.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The NHL Department of Player Safety suspended Capitals winger Tom Wilson seven games and fined him $311,781.61 on Saturday night for his violent hit on Brandon Carlo during the Bruins’ 5-1 victory at TD Garden on Friday.

Referees Dean Morton and Pierre Lambert did not penalize Wilson for the first-period blast, which slammed Carlo’s head into the corner glass and sent him to the hospital overnight, but the league made clear Saturday a boarding penalty should have been called.

In its explanatory video, the NHL said “through no fault of his own,” Carlo was in a position where he was “unable to brace for contact, anticipate the hit, or protect himself in any way from Wilson,” who approached out of his field of view. While agreeing with the Capitals hits along the boards, and to defenseless players, do happen, the league weighed Carlo’s injury and Wilson’s “substantial disciplinary record” heavier.

“The direct and significant contact to a defenseless player’s face and head, causing a violent impact with the glass” made a suspension necessary, the league concluded, adding “while there are aspects of this hit that may skirt the line between suspendable and not suspendable, it is the totality of the circumstances that cause this play to merit supplemental discipline.”


The NHL DOPS, on Saturday morning, offered Wilson an in-person hearing via Zoom. Wilson, suspended four times and fined twice previously, waived that right and had his hearing via conference call. In-person hearings are offered if an infraction might require a suspension of six games or more.

Carlo was released from Massachusetts General Hospital on Saturday morning. While the Bruins practiced in Brighton, Carlo was resting at home in Charlestown.

Wilson, who in 2017-18 was suspended four times in a 105-game stretch — an unprecedented run, according to the league — had not been in such trouble since. A player is considered a “repeat offender,” in DOPS terms, for 18 months after their most recent suspension.


However, repeat offender status is used to determine how much salary a player should forfeit. The league does take a player’s history into account when meting out supplemental discipline.

“Of course we didn’t like the hit,” Bruins center Charlie Coyle said. “Some are accidental, some aren’t … It’s just unfortunate that stuff does happen. You just never want to see a guy go down like that. That can really affect people later on in their life.”

Capitals coach Peter Laviolette doubled down on his postgame comments from Friday, calling it a “hockey hit” and saying he was hopeful the league wouldn’t suspend his player.

“If this is a suspendable play then all hitting really is going to probably have to be removed,” Laviolette said, arguing that Wilson “didn’t target the head,” despite video evidence showing there was plenty of head contact. “I hope the player’s OK, but for me, the call I think was correct on the ice [Friday] night.”

Matt Grzelcyk, who missed most of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final after he was boarded by St. Louis’s Oskar Sundqvist in Game 1, said Wilson’s hit felt familiar.

“Just feel for Brando,” he said. “You never want to see it happen to anyone … We’re all thinking of him and praying for good health.”

In Carlo’s absence, Connor Clifton moved up to the second pair, teaming with Jakub Zboril. Urho Vaakanainen drew into the practice lineup, skating with Jarred Tinordi.


Vaakanainen, who appeared in four games from Feb. 21 to Feb. 28, recorded a pair of assists in his first two.

Coyle had false test

A false positive rapid test after Wednesday’s morning skate landed Coyle on the league’s COVID protocol list.

Coyle, who was asymptomatic, tested negative later that night, and was cleared for Friday’s game after two more negative tests. Forced to stay home until the matter was solved, he said he was “questioning everything.”

“You start thinking about everything you’ve done over the last couple days,” Coyle said. “What did I do? But I haven’t really been doing anything … It was kind of hard to believe that I’d be the only one to have it. I kind of knew in my mind that I was going to be OK.

“I’m at my apartment complex and I can’t even go in the gym there and do anything, so I was doing bodyweight stuff in my house and try to get ready, stay in shape.

“Could have been worse. I could have been doing 10 days [in quarantine].”

Returning after a day and a half away, Coyle took a penalty Friday and was 40 percent on faceoffs in 18:04 of ice time.

A devilish stretch

The Devils, who lost, 6-3, to the Rangers on Saturday afternoon, are in a brutal stretch. They have dropped eight of nine games (1-8-0) and needed overtime to beat the Sabres in their only win. They were outscored, 36-18, in that span, and 14-5 in their last three. Since returning from a two-week, COVID-forced break on Feb. 16, they have not gone more than a day between games. They won’t have a two-day break between games until March 31-April 1 … Patrice Bergeron was not present at Saturday’s practice. The club did not immediately specify a reason, and coach Bruce Cassidy was not asked on the Zoom call, but it is likely he was given the day off to rest. Greg McKegg filled in at center. Jack Studnicka worked Bergeron’s bumper spot on the top power play unit.


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.