The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals will be without winger Tom Wilson for the first quarter of the season, as the NHL Department of Player Safety announced he would be suspended for 20 games following an illegal hit in a preseason game.

Tom Wilson suspension Capitals
Tom Wilson is led off the ice by an official after delivering a hit to St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist on Sunday. (Image: Nick Wass/AP)

The hit in question came on Sunday, when Wilson blindsided St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist, resulting in what the NHL called an illegal check to the head.

Repeat Infractions Lead to Long Suspension

Wilsons suspension was more severe than is typical for an illegal hit because it marks his fourth suspension in the span of just 105 games. The 20-game ban is the longest one issued for on-the-ice actions since 2015, when San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres was given a 41-game suspension after hitting Jacob Silfverberg in the head.

The Department of Player Safety noted that it was in uncharted territory due to the frequency of suspensions for Wilson. The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA does say that repeat offenders will be more severely punished for each new violation.

The league also referenced the violent nature of the play in a video explaining the suspension.

Wilson takes a poor angle of approach and picks Sundqvists head and makes it the main point of contact, the NHL said. It is also important to note that the head contact on this play is avoidable.

Sundqvist had to be helped off the ice by his teammates, and is beginning the season on the injured list.

The Capitals found out about the suspension hours before they opened the regular season at home against the Boston Bruins. Wilson participated in the pregame celebration of Washingtons Stanley Cup victory, during which the team raised their championship banner.

Teammates Stand Behind Wilson

But that was the only action he would see on the night, much to the frustration of his teammates.

Honestly, I think its garbage, winger Devante Smith-Pelly told ESPN. We watched a video from the league saying what hits are good and which ones arent. They showed some hits that were way worse than thatmaybe not in force, but as it regards to the head, that were so-called allowed.

Wilson plays right wing on Washingtons first line, alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 24-year-old signed a six-year, $31 million contract in the offseason after setting career highs in both goals (14) and assists (21) last season.

Wilson then scored five goals and added 10 assists during the Capitals playoff run. However, he also earned a three-game suspension after a hit on Pittsburgh Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese that broke his jaw.

Wilson has the right to appeal his suspension, either to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or to a neutral arbitrator.

In the meantime, the Capitals have gotten off to a great start even without Wilson in the lineup. On Wednesday night, Washington blasted the Bruins 7-0, opening the scoring with two goals in the first 1:47 of the game.

The Capitals are expected to make a strong run at defending their Stanley Cup title. William Hill lists Washington as a 12/1 pick to win the Stanley Cup this season, not far off of the odds given to the Tampa Bay Lightning (8/1), Toronto Maple Leafs (17/2), and the Boston Bruins (9/1).