Tom Wilson’s suspension is over.
A neutral arbitrator reduced Wilson’s ban Tuesday to 14 games from 20 — making the Capitals winger eligible to play right away. The 24-year-old made his return later in the evening against the Minnesota Wild.
Because of the reduction, Wilson will earn back $378,048.78 in lost salary. He was out 16 games total.
“It’s the first good day in a while,” Wilson told reporters in Minnesota. “It was definitely a good text to get. … Obviously, I’m pretty excited to play some hockey again.”
Wilson was initially suspended to begin the season after he delivered a controversial blindside hit on St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist in the preseason.
Wilson appealed the punishment, setting up a weeks-long process featuring multiple appeals. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman first upheld the suspension, but Wilson was allowed to take that decision to a neutral arbitrator agreed upon by the NHL and its players’ union.
The NHL’s original ruling was the longest suspension for on-ice play since 2015, when San Jose’s Raffi Torres received 41 games for a preseason hit. The league said the punishment was a reflection of what was an “unprecedented” series of suspensions for Wilson, who was banned for the fourth time in 13 months.
But the arbitrator, Shyam Das, ruled there wasn’t “substantial evidence” to justify the length of the ban. He settled on 14 games by treating Wilson’s recent three-game playoff suspension as six regular season games, doubling it and adding on two more because Sundqvist suffered a concussion and shoulder injury.
Das has a history of siding with the players. Earlier this season, he reduced Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson’s 27-game domestic violence suspension to 18.
And in 2012, when Das worked for MLB, he vacated Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun’s 50-game drug suspension — which ultimately cost Das his job.
The Capitals, meanwhile, have missed Wilson — starting the season with a 7-6-3 record. They’ve struggled to fill his role along the first line next to stars Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, using five different right wingers on the top line in Wilson’s absence.
After the suspension was lifted, Capitals coach Todd Reirden put Wilson back together with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov.
Wilson is coming off a career year in which he had 14 goals and 21 assists. He signed a new six-year, $31 million contract in the offseason.
Even with his return, Wilson said he knows he’ll likely be labeled as a dirty player. Other Capitals — ranging from teammate T.J. Oshie to general Brian MacLellan — added the winger will have to change parts of his game in order to avoid another ban.
“I’ve had lots of time to think about it and dissect parts of my game,” Wilson said. “At full speed, the rink’s not getting any bigger and guys are getting stronger and faster. Some of those hits at full speed, whether I can or can’t make those anymore and just putting myself in a good position not to have the ball in their court and make sure I’m controlling my end of it and make sure I’m controlling what I can do.”