Lars Eller says Tom Wilson’s hits in scrum with Rangers weren't a ‘big deal’

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Eller says Wilson’s hits in scrum with NYR not a ‘big deal’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Capitals' center Lars Eller defended teammate Tom Wilson on Tuesday against arguments that Wilson deserved to be suspended for his role in a scrum during Washington's win over the Rangers on Monday.

The NHL issued Wilson a $5,000 fine for roughing the Rangers' forward Pavel Buchnevich, the maximum amount allowed under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, he was not suspended, a big sigh of relief for the Capitals with only four games left before the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Eller joined 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies on Tuesday morning and fired back at the notion that Wilson deserved to be punished.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Eller said. “What happened immediately after, Tom just kinda defended himself. [He] first tried to defend our goalie and then tried to defend himself with a guy on his back and another guy trying to fight him or whatever it was. It is what it is. It happens. These things tend to happen in games whether Tom is on the ice or not.

“I think a lot of times now, every time Tom is involved, there’s gonna be a bigger deal made about it. So I think even sometimes you could argue that there seems to be a different standard for him than there is for others even though he had a long time in between his last suspension and the suspension before that but that’s a different argument. In the big scheme of things, I don’t think too much about what happened last night.”

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Wilson was suspended seven games earlier this season for boarding Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo. It was the fifth suspension of his career but his first since 2018. Both his teammates and head coach Peter Laviolette came to his defense after the suspension was handed down, with Laviolette calling it an “awkward play” and “just a hit.”

Eller pointed to several hits he and his teammates have taken this season that he believes would’ve been handled differently had Wilson been the one delivering the blows.

“I think back to the hit that I got earlier in the season at home by [Leo] Komarov from behind and I think about the hit that [Michael] Raffl took a couple of games ago also from, I think it was [Matt] Martin,” Eller said. “Both instances, the guys see numbers the whole way and a guy playing the puck from a vulnerable position and [they’re] still following through with the hit, maybe not accelerating but not doing anything to slow down…if it was Tom making any of those hits, that would’ve had a vastly different outcome.”

Wilson’s fine was specifically attributed to his punch on Buchnevich, not the scuffle with Artemi Panarin, who he threw to the ice after Panarin engaged with him. Eller acknowledged that it’s not a good look taking down a player without a helmet, but he also felt Panarin put himself in the position for that to happen.

“What happens after, body slam a guy who has his helmet off, that’s pretty unfortunate but I also think that’s just a stronger guy lining up against a not-a-strong guy,” Eller said. “Once that happened and it’s a go, there’s no kinda showing mercy of, ‘I’m not gonna try to not hurt you because your helmet is off because you’re not stronger.’ You picked this fight, now it’s on. Right? That’s just how it goes. The Rangers guy is at fault for putting himself in that situation…he’s defending his guy and all of a sudden you got a brawl.”

Wilson has 13 goals and 20 assists on the season, giving him the fifth-most points of any Capitals player. His 101 hits rank third on the team behind Garnet Hathaway (165) and Brenden Dillon (135). With the 6-3 win over the Rangers, Washington moved into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the East. Regardless of who the team has to face in the playoffs, Wilson is going to be a key player.

“Tom is well aware that we need him on the ice more than we need him outside,” Eller said. “We need him because the truth is Tom is a heck of a player. There’s very few players like him that can play with the physicality that can protect his teammates but also score 20+ goals a season. When Tom is at his best, there’s not a team in the league that wouldn’t wanna have him in the lineup.

“His identity is he’s a physical player and we need him to be that. But we also need him not crossing that line and Tom is well aware of that…it’s not intentionally that he’s been on the wrong side of the line sometimes and he’s not the only player in the league that has gotten suspensions.

“In the big scheme of things, I don’t think what happened last night was a big deal to be honest.”