Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today’s topic: How will Tom Wilson perform this season?
Andrew: Death, Taxes and Tom Wilson being at the center of controversy. That won’t go away anytime soon, either, as the Capitals will open the season against the Rangers at home. And, if you’ve been paying attention, the Rangers are still upset over last year’s incident at Madison Square Garden. They’ve invested their entire offseason to making sure that Wilson and the Capitals, as well as other physical divisional teams, don’t push them around.
But Wilson is one of the Capitals’ best forwards, and they need him in the lineup night in and night out. Last season, he scored 13 goals and 33 points in 47 games — an 82-game pace of 22 goals and 57 points.
For a team with Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Anthony Mantha, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov already onboard, a 57-point player that impacts the game at both ends of the ice can really elevate the Capitals to a totally different level of play. That is to say, a Stanley Cup level of play.
If Wilson can stay out of the spotlight and impact the game at all ends of the ice, the Capitals should have one of the better top six groups in the NHL.
JJ: Wilson scored 13 goals and 20 assists in 2021, but the most important stat was a seven-game suspension he was given for his hit on Boston defenseman Brandon Carlo. We don’t need to rehash the entire controversy, but just to summarize, a hit that had never been suspendable in the NHL before sidelined Wilson for seven games.
There simply is no more margin for error, no more benefit of the doubt for Wilson when it comes to the Department of Player Safety and that may affect him going into 2021-22 considering his physicality is what makes him such an effective player. If worry over a suspension takes away that physicality, he will not be as good. Having said that, he has to be aware of what he is doing because a less effective Wilson is still better than a suspended Wilson. This is a fine line to walk and is the burden Wilson now has to play with, because I do not think it is an exaggeration to believe his next suspension could cost him 40+ games.
Wilson seemed to handle this balance well last season. Prior to his suspension for the Carlo hit, Wilson scored seven goals and 10 assists in 21 games for 0.81 points per game. After his suspension, Wilson scored six goals and 10 assists in 26 games for 0.62 points per game. His production decreased, but only slightly and if that is the cost of pulling up on a few hits just out of an abundance of caution, you take that.
But what will complicate things for Wilson in 2021-22 is the New York Rangers who basically dedicated their entire offseason to building a roster to be more effective against Wilson. Can he focus more on hockey and less on the physical play when an entire lineup is coming after him? That’s a tough spot and this is where the loss of Brenden Dillon really hurts. That is one less physical player in the lineup who can drop the gloves.
I think a lot of responsibility will fall on Garnet Hathaway this season just to take some of the pressure off Wilson. Wilson cannot be the guy the Caps look to every time they get into a physical battle, because they need him on the ice and not in the penalty box. Plus, he is the guy everyone is watching. When a hit that never warranted a suspension in the past now costs seven games, you have to know it’s not going to take much for them to throw the book at you.
So, what does all of this mean for Wilson’s season? Ultimately, I think we do see a drop in production and a drop in his effectiveness. It’s a lot to balance and I think he will struggle at times. I do not see him reaching 20 goals this year with the return of the 82-game schedule and I would predict around 15-17 goals, 20 assists as his focus this season shifts to staying on the ice rather than knocking opponents off of it.