Monday, September 16, 2019

Washington Capitals 2019-2020 Previews -- Forwards: Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson

“The greatest and noblest pleasure which we have in this world is to discover new truths, and the next is to shake off old prejudices.”
-- Frederick the Great

Dirty”… ”Hated”…   “Controversial”… 

One could spend an afternoon going through a thesaurus finding synonyms to describe how fans and media have viewed Tom Wilson at times over his six-year career with the Washington Capitals.  He is no shrinking violet.  In his six seasons in the NHL, Wilson has almost 100 more penalty minutes (934) than his closest pursuer, Antoine Roussel (839).  Only Dustin Byfuglien has more minor penalties (230) than Wilson (206).  Only Cody McLeod has more major penalties (84) than Wilson (64).  Wilson is fourth over that period in misconduct penalties (15), and he is tied with four other players (one of them new teammate Radko Gudas) in match penalties over that period (two).

It is a body of work that inspires strong feelings among other fan bases and teams.  One team seems to have an especially keen focus on Wilson.  But “Tom Wilson, Goon” has become a fiction, to the extent it was ever true.  Last season he posted 22 goals (a career high), 40 points (a career high), was plus-11 (a career high), recorded 17 even strength goals (a career high), posted three power play goals (a career high…see a pattern emerging?).  He also put up career highs in shots on goal (130), shooting percentage (16.9 percent), blocked shots (52), and takeaways (43).  He came of age as an offensive contributor with the Caps going 20-1-0 in the 21 games in which he recorded a goal and going 28-2-1 in the 30 games in which he recorded a point.  Compare that to the Caps’ record of 4-5-0 in games in which Wilson logged at least five penalty minutes, and his value to the team keeping his wits about him was evident.
Odd Wilson Fact…

Only three players in the last 20 years have recorded at least 50 goals and logged at least 900 minutes in penalties over their first six seasons: Chris Neil (58 goals, 1,152 penalty minutes), Sean Avery (65/1,067), and Tom Wilson (57/934).

Bonus Odd Wilson Fact…

Since 2005-2006, five Capitals have recorded at least three power play, three shorthanded, and three game-winning goals over their first six seasons.  Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich, Matt Pettinger, and Tom Wilson.  Ovechkin, Semin, and Wilson are the only ones to do so while adding at least 50 even strength goals

Extra Bonus Tom Wilson Fact…

Tom Wilson has more career penalty minutes (934) than the next three ranked players have from his 2012 draft class, combined: Cedric Paquette (303), Jacob Trouba (297), and Hampus Lindholm (222)

Fearless’ Take…

If Metropolitan Division teams have become the Caps’ most bitter rivals, and Tom Wilson is to be considered MVP (Most Villainous Player), he made them pay last season with half of his season goal total (11) coming against Metro teams.  And, he was especially lethal in that regard, shooting 26.8 percent with two power play goals and one shorthanded goal among them.  It added to a career goal-scoring total against the Metro (20 overall) that is most against any NHL division.  Overall, Wilson had 22 goals in 63 games last year, becoming only the eighth player since 2005-2006 to play in at least 50 games and average at least 0.35 goals per game over a season at least once.  He is the only one to do it while logging at least 125 penalty minutes over that season.  In fact, last season Tom Wilson became only the sixth player in team history to appear in at least 50 games, log at least 125 penalty minutes, and average at least 0.35 goals per game. 

Cheerless’ Take…

Physical Tom was not necessarily Effective Tom when it came to wins and losses.  The Caps were 8-5-1 in the 14 games in which he was credited with at least five hits, 9-3-1 when he was credited with one or no hits.  There was also a slow fade in his goal scoring after a hot start.  Wilson had nine goals in his first 12 games, four goals in his next 11 games, but then he had one goal in his next 15 games.  He did rebound with eight goals in 19 games, but he was shutout in his last half dozen games of the regular season.

Potential Milestones:
  • 500 career NHL games (454; he needs 46)
  • 200 career points (144; he need 56)
  • 1,000 penalty minutes (934; ne needs 66)
  • Top-50 all time in goals scored as a Capital (57; he needs three to tie Chris Clark and Tomas Fleishmann (60))
  • Top-50 all time in points as a Capital (144; he needs 10 to tie Geoff Courtnall (144), assuming Dmitry Orlov (50th with 153 points) surpasses Courtnall first)
  • Top-five all time in penalty minutes as a Capital (934; he needs 101 to tie Brendan Witt (1,035) for fifth place)
  • Top-20 all time in shorthanded goals scored by a Capital (3; he needs one to tie five other players for 19th place)

The Big Question… Does Tom Wilson have another level of performance to reach?

We might be getting a bit ahead of ourselves here.  Since 2005-2006, only five Capitals have recorded at least 130 shots on goal and posted a shooting percentage over 16 percent in a season.  T.J. Oshie is the only Capital to do it more than once in that span.  Tom Wilson shot 16.9 percent last season on 130 shots, both of which were career highs, thus explaining his career high 22 goals.  What the five players have in common is an ability to score from in close, in dirty areas where a physical price must be paid.

On the other hand, Wilson’s goals per game almost doubled last season (0.35) from the previous season (0.18).  That kind of production would put Wilson in a position to threaten the 30-goal mark over 82 games, but it was a big leap.  Can he maintain that level of production and play in something closer to 82 games this season?  Last season he was suspended for the first 20 games of the season, 14 of which he actually served before having his sentence reduced.  He also missed a few games to a concussion.  Given the way Wilson plays, it cannot be ruled out that he would suffer repeats of these events this season.  In the former respect, his lengthy suspension (it was his fourth career suspension) history does haunt him, and he is one of a few players who has a bulls-eye trained on his back by the league.  As much as anything, his ability to avoid such absences will go a long way to determining if he can reach the next level of production.

In the end…

Tom Wilson remains the epitome of the “throwback” power forward in the NHL, a player with size, who plays with an edge, who can produce.  But he has expanded and enriched his game to take on responsibilities as a top-line forward, to play significant minutes as a penalty killer (second only to Lars Eller in shorthanded ice time among forwards who spent all of last season with the Caps), and to reduce his frequency of fighting majors (six last season compared to 13 in 2017-2018).

Wilson has that blend of youth (he turned 25 in March), experience (he is now fourth among active Capitals in games played with the club – 454), and production (sixth among active Capitals in goals and seventh in points) that makes him an integral part of the Caps’ scheme.   That he gets significant special teams time (he and Lars Eller were the only forwards to average more than 1:00 of both power play and shorthanded ice time per game while playing in at least half the team’s games last season) makes him that much more important.  It has taken a while, but Tom Wilson has made people accept, if not forget, that he was the second first round pick for the Caps in 2012.  In doing so, he has made himself a more complete hockey player, even if old prejudices some fans have about his game persist.

Projection: 77 games, 23-22-45, plus-12

Photo: Geoff Burke/NHLI