“Obviously some guys can get a little wild,” Wilson said. “It was a very fun party. I just wanted to make sure, if there was a spill or a slip or something like that, that I was protected.”
in his – get this – 10 seasons In Washington, this was a big part of Wilson’s mission: to provide protection. As he smooths his way back into the Capitals lineup — Thursday’s game in Arizona will be his fifth since his return — the patriotic story around his club is Alex Ovechkin’s relentless style and methodology. Striving to equal Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goalscoring record. The local story revolves around whether the Caps can use a three-game Western swing to trail three losses in four games and tighten their grip on a playoff spot.
But it’s also a time worth acknowledging Wilson’s role with the Capitals, both now and — you hope — years to come. Someday Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will no longer play hockey here, because they will not play hockey at all.
And when those two pillars inevitably retire—and master pieces like TJ Oshie and John Carlson follow—someone should be left to teach who comes next how the Capitals became the Capitals, annual playoff entrants and Stanley Cup winners. That person is Tom Wilson, 28, already a decade into his career that has him firmly entrenched in Washington.
“My wife and I love it here,” Wilson said by phone Wednesday as he drove to the airport for a flight to Phoenix. “I’ve been here long enough that it definitely feels like home. When our friends and family come here, they love it. They know it. I’m very lucky to have been playing in one place for as long as I have.”
“Honestly, I can’t really imagine playing anywhere else,” he said. “But it’s business, and these things do happen.”
This isn’t a column meant to get general manager Brian MacLellan and owner Ted Leonsis to start sniffing out a new contract for Wilson. It’s too early for that because Wilson will be signing next season. (Psst. Mac and Ted. Start working on a new contract with Wilson.)
What it is: An appeal to understand what the Capitals have in Wilson and what he can offer to future generations of Capitals. It’s rare – perhaps, in today’s NHL, Unique – Physical strength skilled enough to play with generation franchise players. Three months without it – not to mention almost the entirety of it Playoff series loss to the Florida Panthers This past spring — it must have served as a good reminder of what life without Wilson is like for Washington. It’s a presence in every shift and a big part of Beret’s personality. Take it out of the lineup, and life is, in short, hard.
Take hockey away from Wilson, well, it’s not easy either. Throughout his recovery, he was consistent in his positivity. “I had a great team around me,” he said, “and all I had to do was do what I was told, so I didn’t come off too far.” But driving into the Capital One Arena, past the crowd wearing the number 43 jersey – that was tough.
“You’re not playing; you’re not contributing to the city,” Wilson said. “That’s a big part of why you play is for the fans and for the city. You feel like you’re not doing anything to help.”
back It came on January 8th against Columbus, a game in which Backstrom—the Caps’ all-time leader in assists—returned from hip surgery. Ten seasons of career, and on game day, muscle memory can take over, even after a long absence.
“It was really funny,” Wilson said. “There were times when I was standing on the National Anthem’s blue line, and your brain almost snapped back in, like, ‘Hey, I’ve done this a million times before. I had to say to myself: ‘Hey, you have to focus here. It’s going to be really fast. It’s going to be really hard….
And then I got out there the first shift. The puck is flying around. Guys are flying around. That’s a lot of motivation after eight months off. I really had to say to myself that first game, ‘You really have to stay in it.'” it’s a Not Just another game. “
Any Capitals game involving Tom Wilson has an indispensable component to it. Any match he misses lacks the umami that makes hats off what it is. This was true as the Capitals suffered a slow start during the first month of the season. This was true even as they clawed their way back into the playoff position. That will be true for the rest of this season as they attempt to advance into the playoffs for the first time since that Cup in 2018. There are many reasons why, when he and Backstrom got back together, the reception at Capital One Arena felt like a hug. of 18,573 family members.
With their accomplishments and longevity, Ovechkin, the captain, and Backstrom, the “A” plastered on his jacket, are the supposed and unquestioned leaders. But if his next contract expires – sorry, when His next contract being finalized – Wilson should be considered captain-in-waiting. He is not pressing for the job. When the time comes, he shouldn’t have to.
“They helped me a lot when I was younger,” Wilson said of Ovechkin and Backstrom. “My job throughout my career has been to skate, to be physical and create space for them – and to bring them the puck. That’s not going to change for the next few years.”
Ultimately, it will change, and Wilson will have a new role. He will be ready for it. No longer a 19-year-old playing fourth grade and looking to fight. He is not here to step on his toes or get in the way of teammates who believe in their legacy but rather to help them further it. He was always here to protect and serve the capitals. When his time comes—and it will—he’ll be ready to lead them, too.