30 Thoughts: All eyes on Dennis Wideman hearing

Watch as Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman runs over a referee after a taking a scary hit against the Nashville Predators. Dennis Wideman's 20-game suspension was upheld by the NHL after an appeal.

We’ll empty the remaining All-Star Weekend notes in a few moments, but I wanted to start with the dominant story over the next 24 hours — Dennis Wideman’s disciplinary hearing for knocking down linesman Don Henderson.

This isn’t a Player Safety Issue, so Colin Campbell rules on the suspension, not Stephane Quintal. Since there was no game misconduct on the play, there are no specific guidelines Campbell must follow. He has the power to punish as he sees fit.

The hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET at the NHL’s Toronto offices. There won’t be white-hot public pressure like there was for John Scott’s Nashville inclusion. But, make no mistake, this is a scalding situation behind the scenes.

As is normal, the NHLPA will represent Wideman, arguing for as low a number as possible. (The Flames will defend him too, adding a storyline we will discuss shortly.) What makes this situation different is the inclusion of the Officials’ Association. It’s a powerful group, and it will push for harsh justice.

The NHL is very protective of its officials. Public criticism leads to fines. While other sports occasionally agree to make referees/umpires available to a reporter to explain controversial calls, hockey avoids this practice. The only time you can really figure out how the sport feels about particular ones is by who makes the cut each playoff round.

The NHL also continues to have on-ice officials rule on video reviews despite public and private appeals for the more technically-advanced Situation Room to handle it. The zebras want this responsibility; they don’t want any more of the game “taken away” from them.

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector had an interesting take last weekend, writing that, in his opinion, a suspension of under 10 games could provoke blowback.

“Whether they work to rule, call everything the first night back, or call nothing, if the perception is that the game doesn’t have Don Henderson’s back the zebras will make it clear — for a period of time — that they don’t have the game’s back either,” he wrote.

That would be a horrendous, stupendous mistake. Imagine if you have nothing to do with Dennis Wideman and your playoff chances are damaged by this kind of reaction. There would be repercussions. No choice.

What it does reveal is the atmosphere in which Wideman must plead his case. Word is he’s stunned and hurt by the damage to his on-ice reputation, which, previous to this, is very clean. Only twice in his 11 seasons has he reached 50 penalty minutes, and he’s on-pace for 33 this year. He’s never received a major penalty for anything other than a fight. He’s had eight of those, two of them this year, his first since October 2010. So, it’s not like he’d be a very high pick in the “this is a guy who’s going to knock over a linesman” poll.

In addition to apologizing to Henderson immediately after the game, one source indicated Wideman phoned to offer an additional apology on Friday once he learned Henderson spent the night in hospital for observation, but the call went unanswered. (The source was uncertain if a conversation did occur later.)

The real wild-card here is what the defenceman says about the incident itself. Wideman was shaken up by a huge hit from Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki seconds earlier, and clearly was annoyed and in discomfort going to the bench. He stayed there, not going to the quiet room or anything.

After the game, he said, “It was a hard hit… there was a pain in my neck and shoulder a little bit, but that was about it.”

Now? The expectation, as Damien Cox reported Monday night, is Wideman will admit he was “woozy” or “foggy,” which creates another problem: why wasn’t he honest about it in the moment? The answers are probably pretty simple — he wanted to help the team win an important game; he wanted to see if he felt better once he sat down for a few seconds; players hate to leave games — but, in these days of greater concussion awareness, this won’t go without controversy of its own.

Anything above six games creates the possibility of Wideman appealing to a neutral arbitrator. I’d be astonished by anything less than that, because it allows the league to say, “We held up our end and if the arbitrator drops the suspension, that’s out of our hands.”

Asking around at All-Star Weekend put the unofficial guess at somewhere between 10-15 games, although you’d expect the Officials’ Association to demand at least 20.

30 THOUGHTS

1. Calgary’s delegation includes President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, which puts him on the opposite side of his own history. As the NHL’s director of hockey operations in 1994, Burke had to rule when St. Louis defenceman Rick Zombo slashed linesman Kevin Collins. Collins accidentally bumped Zombo, a play that directly led to the game-winning goal against the Blues.

“It was a split-second reaction,” Zombo told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Not until I was chasing the play did I realize my reaction was dealt upon a linesman. I in no way intended to inflict punishment on a linesman. It’s a situation I regret.” Burke gave him 10 games.

2. A few hours after the All-Star Game, John Scott’s parents, Howard and Marilyn, were relaxing with close friends Ian and Marie Gallagher, who joined them for the weekend.

“When John graduated Grade 12,” Marilyn quietly said, “They asked him on-stage what he wanted to be. He said he wanted to play in the NHL. They laughed at him.”

We are 33 days into 2016, and it’s going to be hard to top this story this year. We talked briefly about what I’d said and written, that I didn’t like the way people used him to make fun of the NHL at the start. Playing almost 300 games is to be respected, no matter your role. That’s why the highlight for me was not his first goal, but the second. Scoring that one took real ability and skill. That was a snipe. At the end of the night, our young Hometown Hockey Be a Broadcaster winner missed a chance to get Scott’s autograph. Howard Scott saw it, and brought him to John, who happily obliged. I didn’t see it, but a few Rogers people did. They said the boy was very emotional and proud.

3. My four-year-old started skating a few months ago. He’s pretty good for a beginner, but just HATES it. We’re committed for a year or so, because I want him to have the skill, but we’re not going to force him to play. I’d like him to, and watching this weekend up close is a major reason why. For all the issues in youth hockey — cost, injury fears, mind-numbingly nutty parents — it teaches teamwork. From the moment we got there, it was obvious the players were looking out for Scott. That first goal was orchestrated not only but Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, but by the opposition.

In that moment, you could see this was going to be a success. Burns got a lot of credit (and deservedly so) because he and Lil Burns embraced the weekend. He’s a giant personality and the camera loves him. But it was great to get an opportunity to see more of Pavelski up-close. He’s understated, and, to many in Canada, an unknown because he’s never spent a ton of time up here. The best way to describe him is “professional.” Businesslike, believes in a certain way to approach things and stays on that path. Quiet, but he also played a major role in making sure Scott was comfortable. Those two led the way, but the entire group was selfless.

4. How determined were the players to make Scott look good? His first event was the hardest shot. Initially, one of the players said with a laugh, it was suggested to not include Shea Weber so he had a better chance. Then, they remembered they were in Nashville.

5. With movie opportunities coming at Scott, Nick Kypreos sent out a tweet that made a connection to Oren Koules, the former owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Koules produced the excellent Saw films and knows Scott’s agent, Ben Hankinson. He’d be a perfect fit, but scheduling issues won’t allow him to be involved. However, he plans to help and advise Hankinson on getting a deal done.

6. Scott’s got his hands full this week, as wife Danielle is scheduled to give birth to twins while the family moves back into their newly renovated home. When he’s ready to resume playing, then what? He admitted before the game there was so much bad blood that he recognized All-Star could be the final act of his pro career. I’m not sure all of those hard feelings are gone, but the end seems unlikely now, unless he wants it to be. He’s going to be able to write his own ticket as a motivational speaker. I wondered if Montreal might offer to trade him somewhere closer to Michigan (even if it’s in the AHL), but surely St. John’s would love a couple of home dates first.

7. So, what does this mean for All-Star voting? Is there any chance the NHL looks at this and backs away from its desire to alter the process? Unlikely. I’d expect to see a change. But there should be conversation about a process for letting fans vote for someone similar to Scott each season — a depth player or veteran who hasn’t gone before. Was this lightning in a bottle, or could this magic be re-created?

8. Other All-Star notes: As a late replacement, James Neal was desperate for ideas in the breakaway challenge. He reached out for suggestions hours before the event. Brandon Walker, the Predators’ manager of hockey operations, had a connection to Dierks Bentley, the singer and songwriter who was to be a celebrity coach the next day. Within five minutes of Walker texting his buddy, Bentley excitedly responded he wanted to do it. I don’t think they did any practice. I couldn’t see who said it, but as Bentley joined Neal on the ice, someone blurted out, “Oh God, I hope this works.”

9. Matt Duchene said he started practising his breakaway relay move on his outdoor rink at 14, just in case he someday made the event. He joked, “I was better at it then than I am now.”

10. When the NHL went to go get Jaromir Jagr to walk the red carpet before the skills competition, he was working out in the gym, covered in sweat. There were so many players saying they wanted a Jagr autographed stick, I asked the equipment guys how many he brought. They said they saw four. Now, we’ve got to find out who actually got them.

11. After the game, a couple players liked the three-on-three so much they suggested playing more of it on the Saturday, taking away some or all of the skills competition. Maybe you set up a tournament where two games are played on Saturday, two more on Sunday. Goal differential decides who plays the final. Would be interesting to see the response if more players were polled on the idea, but I could see teams worried about too much of it. You can’t eliminate the hardest shot. You can’t eliminate fastest skater. You shouldn’t eliminate the breakaway challenge, because, every year, more and more players show personality and come up with creative ideas. (Tom Hanks, start practising now.) How does everyone feel about the relay and the shootout? Would you erase them for a couple more games?

12. It was too late when we talked about it with Metropolitan coach Barry Trotz before the games, but the NHL should consider ignoring the trapezoid in this event.

13. A few of the goalies — Ben Bishop, Devan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider — were shown prototypes of potential changes to pants and chest protectors when they arrived in Nashville. As part of this, we could see a re-writing of the rulebook when it comes to this position’s equipment.

For example, look at Rule 11.3, which covers chest and arm pads. It reads, “Shoulder cap protectors must follow the contour of the shoulder cap.” The word “contour” appears once more in this section and once in describing how pants are supposed to fit. One of the goals of this new committee is to change “contour” to “wrap,” which would alter the way the equipment sits. There is also discussion about making these particular areas more like an F1 technical manual, which gives tight specifics on sizes for the cars and their parts. All this must be accomplished through co-operation between the NHL and NHLPA. But the intent in both sides is there.

14. Three of the All-Star goalies (Dubnyk, Holtby and Jonathan Quick) played in the ECHL. Can’t imagine that’s happened too often. Wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more of this, now that teams rather a decent prospect play in that league rather than back up in the AHL.

15. Quick gave me a few minutes to ask about something I’ve wondered for a couple of years. In the 2014 playoffs, when Los Angeles was destroyed 7-2 by San Jose in Game 2, he skated by all the players on the bench late in the match. Word is he took all the blame, telling incredulous teammates who hung him out to dry “this one’s on me,” and “I will be better.” He said he couldn’t specifically remember saying that.

“I was telling them it wasn’t over and that we’re all in this together,” he said Sunday. Did you take the blame yourself? “I did want them to know that I felt part of the reason (we lost),” he offered, clearly trying to help me write a better story. Quick is very serious, but he’s another guy whose commitment I’ve always admired. He let his guard down this weekend and was pretty funny, pointing out whatever he said didn’t work.

“We lost Game 3 (to go down 3-0).” What did you say after that? He smiled. “We can’t afford to lose another one.”

16. Let’s reset a few storylines as the season resumes. All eyes are on Winnipeg as the Jets decide what to do with Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd. Byfuglien’s “I don’t mind Winnipeg at all” quote got some negative play, but I was there and didn’t take it that way. He’d been asked about it a few times already and he’s understated at the best of times. There was a pretty funny exchange right after with several reporters about his love for ice fishing, the outdoors and how the Manitoba capital is perfect for that. He told a great story about how unprepared Anthony Peluso was for ice fishing — he didn’t have the proper clothes — and got so cold he’s refused to go again. My current position hasn’t changed, that the Jets want to sign Byfuglien and continue to debate how much term they wish to give. Meanwhile, they seem to be at a standstill with Ladd. Of course, no surprise if this prediction turns out totally wrong.

17. The only interesting thing to add about Jonathan Drouin is that word is he’s willing to be patient about his role once he gets to a new organization. There’ve been reports he’s demanding an immediate top-six spot, but one GM who I think is interested said he didn’t believe that was the case. Simply wants a fresh start. We’ve been talking St. Louis and Tampa for a while now, and opponents suspect if those two clubs actually wanted to do something, they could. Blues GM Doug Armstrong has said he wanted to wait for Jaden Schwartz before making any decisions, and the forward won’t play Tuesday night. An appointment on Wednesday should determine his return.

18. Remember Anaheim is overflowing on the blue-line, looking for young forwards. Dallas would like to add a defenceman, but there’s a possibility Jim Nill plays it more conservatively than we expect. He’s a big picture thinker, and may look at the Stars as going through the process, as opposed to being at the apex of it. Very intrigued to see what he’ll do. Minnesota would love to add scoring — the sooner, the better. Calgary controls the goalie market. That could change depending on late-season or playoff results, but the if the Flames wish to strike now for next season, they’d have more options than others before the market heats up. No idea what Vancouver’s defence looks like after the deadline, particularly if they are still in it.

19. Looking to see who takes a shot at Jiri Hudler. The hardest thing to do in this league now is score, and he can do it. It makes sense for the Wild, although they prefer size, too. He hasn’t been himself this year, and some of that undoubtedly is seeing Dougie Hamilton and Michael Frolik get paid while he hasn’t. The writing is on the wall. Get him into a new situation where he can score a couple of big goals and he’ll be motivated to do it.

20. Another one to look out for is Carey Price, if only to troll us by practising in a different piece of equipment every day. My guess is it’s a knee injury, something a skater could play with but a goalie can’t. No one knows when or if he’s going to return, and Montreal isn’t making any short-term moves until that’s answered. I’ve wondered why Price took that trip to see a second opinion in New York. Now that it’s lasted this long, there’s only one logical explanation: Les Canadiens were told he didn’t need surgery and the goalie wanted to make sure. Sometimes those injuries you can’t fix with a scalpel are worse.

21. Spent some time last week in Tampa Bay. News is scarce, with Don Meehan, Steven Stamkos and Steve Yzerman not talking about it. As we’ve all speculated, this is about more than just the money. It’s also about fit. Just by watching, though, you can see how the Lightning are trying to address this. Stamkos is now leading all of the team’s forwards in ice-time, at 19:50 per game. (That is tied for 20th among forwards in the NHL.) While he is playing a lot of right wing, only Valtteri Filppula has taken more faceoffs and it’s clear Cooper wants Stamkos when it’s on his strong side. (Cooper also declined to comment specifically about Stamkos’s usage.)

He’s back in his one-timer spot on the power play, scoring the game’s only goal from there against Toronto. And, Cooper’s broken up The Triplets, something he wasn’t — understandably — willing to do last season while they were on a tear. As a result, Stamkos is playing a ton with Ondrej Palat, who is a great fit for him, and the improving Vladislav Namestnikov. I wondered about Nikita Kucherov going with Stamkos, too, but another coach said the terrific Russian was “too deferential. His game changed. Palat’s doesn’t.”

22. Now, who knows if all of that will work to everyone’s satisfaction. And, you can’t escape the salary issue. One opposing exec, who believes, like I do, that Stamkos’s first choice is to stay, had an interesting take: “There’s a lot of pride there — Meehan, Stamkos, Yzerman. How do you bridge that?”

23. Enjoyed a brief chat with Kucherov. Asked him what he learned last year during the Stanley Cup Final. He replied, “How much better I have to be.” He talked about how he felt rushed to make plays and noticed how Patrick Kane still found ways to create in tight spaces. The Lightning have already played Chicago twice this season and Kucherov said, “If I was on the bench, I watched him. To see what he does and how.”

24. Two things helped turn Tampa’s season. The first is health, and that shouldn’t be underestimated. But, players have discussed the team meeting that took place the day after a 3-1 loss in Calgary on Jan. 5. They were forced to re-watch the first period. Matt Stajan scored the lone goal, but the Lightning gave up several great chances. As it was happening, they were asked to “rate themselves,” as one player said. No one would say specifically what was said, but several indicated it was very blunt and honest. Victor Hedman is, outwardly, a quiet guy, but asked if he made pointed commentary, he smiled and said, “I’m not afraid to speak up.” They are 8-1 since.

25. Another Tampa player who’s grown a voice is Bishop. When they’re in trouble, “he comes to the bench and says, ‘I’ve got this,’” Cooper said. When did the goalie feel comfortable being more vocal?

“When I became the starter after my first full season here (2013-14),” he replied last week. “It’s harder to do that when you’re not number one.”

We’ve all assumed the Lightning’s cap questions (and the presence of Andrei Vasilevskiy) will cost them Bishop. He’s become such a huge part of that team and such a good goalie. Would be a loss for them.

26. Not as certain about the Pittsburgh game that needs to be made up because of the massive snowstorm two weekends ago, but it sounds like the Anaheim/Washington affair will happen April 10. The Capitals are in St. Louis the night before, while the Ducks are in Colorado, albeit for an afternoon game. It’s a tough one to reschedule because of geography, but if Anaheim has to go Denver-Washington-West Coast for a playoff start, that’s a serious challenge. Then again, the way it started for them, they’ll probably be happy with a postseason berth no matter where it begins.

27. Next season, each club will be given a five-day break at some point during the winter. The weather meant Washington’s 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia last Wednesday was its first game in eight days. Trotz pointed out his group took a while to get going because of the layoff, and wondered what that might mean for 2016-17. He suggested, if possible, the NHL try to match up teams or divisions coming off the same break at the same time. Maybe they play back-to-back to add an extra edge after starting off on the same footing. He thought it could be branded “Rivalry Week” or something. NBC’s lawyers may come after him for copyright infringement, but it’s not a bad idea.

28. Had a good conversation with Trotz about all the good publicity the Capitals are getting, including being considered the Stanley Cup favourite. He said he reminded his players about everything positive they accomplished in the 2015 calendar year. Their record from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 was great, their statistical rankings were excellent, “but now the calendar has flipped. It’s a new year. And, let’s face it, we are going to be judged by what we do in the playoffs.”

Washington has a painful post-season history and Trotz addressed that too.

“What’s happened has happened. There’s no excuse for that to affect what we do this year.” The coach added he loved a quote he heard from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton about his own organization’s dubious history.

“He said something like, ‘Forge the Future.’” Trotz paused. “I like that.” I couldn’t find the comment online, but that probably won’t stop it from appearing on a sign in a Capitals dressing room near you.

29. A few opposing GMs expect Washington to make one more big addition to an already-loaded team. Trotz wondered about that affecting team chemistry.

“We have a mature group, very professional. Everyone knows their role. Maybe Mike Richards is what we needed, Jay Beagle comes back and that’s enough.” GM Brian MacLellan’s been quietly seeing what’s out there, waiting for the right time. Maybe plans change.

30. We’re snobbish about our hockey in Canada, and when the NHL went to Tennessee, no one could believe it. For years, we counted the days until they would move. No one’s worrying about that anymore. Without the NHL, I never would have gone to Nashville and learned what a fantastic city it is — alive, exciting, friendly and entertaining. That said, I don’t understand how a young, single player gets more than two points in 40 games.