Arbitrator reduces Dennis Wideman suspension

A text by Dennis Wideman to a teammate was released by the League in its decision to uphold his 20-game suspension. This has caused waves in the NHL and brought forward concerns over private communications by players.

Roughly a month and a half after the controversial incident, the Dennis Wideman appeal process is over. And the NHL disagrees with the outcome.

Independent arbitrator James Oldham chopped the NHL’s 20-game suspension of the Calgary Flames defenceman in half Friday, making it a 10-game ban. Wideman won’t get back the extra nine games he’s sat out, but he will be reimbursed $282,258.06 in lost pay.

Oldham’s decision reads as follows:

The Commissioner’s basic conclusion — that Wideman’s on-ice behavior resulting in Linesman Henderson’s concussion constituted physical abuse of an official calling for Supplemental Discipline for on-ice conduct — was correct. Also, the Commissioner’s use of League Rule 40 (“Physical Abuse of Officials”) as a framework for analysis was appropriate.

The Commissioner’s conclusion, however, that Wideman’s behavior constituted intentional action within the meaning of Rule 40.2, automatically triggering a penalty of not less than twenty games, is not endorsed in this appeal because, in my opinion, that conclusion is not substantially supported by the totality of the evidence presented to me at the NDA hearing.

In my judgment, the proper penalty should have been that specified in League Rule 40.3. Taking into account Wideman’s eleven years of discipline-free performance as a professional hockey player, there is no occasion to go beyond the ten game minimum specified in Rule 40.3.

Dennis Wideman’s penalty, therefore, should be reduced from twenty games to ten games, and it is so ordered.

The case was heard March 5 and 6 in New York City.

Wideman originally received a 20-game ban from NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson during a game against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 27.

An initial appeal saw Wideman’s suspension upheld by league commissioner Gary Bettman, but Wideman and the NHLPA opted to take the matter to a neutral party — an unprecedented step in appeal process.

“We strenuously disagree with the Arbitrator’s ruling and are reviewing the Opinion in detail to determine what next steps may be appropriate," the NHL stated in a release Friday.

"We will have no further comment until we have completed our review. In light of and in response to Arbitrator Oldham’s Opinion, Mr. Wideman will be reinstated and will be eligible to participate in his team’s games, effective immediately.”

Wideman has already missed 19 games to the ban, which originally had him forfeiting $564,516.13 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund for violating Rule 40 (Physical Abuse of Officials).

The veteran blueliner was not penalized on the play. Henderson was able to complete the game but did spend a night in the hospital afterward to get checked out and has not returned to work since.

Wideman apologized to Henderson on the ice and again publicly after receiving his ban.

Prior to checking Henderson, Wideman had just been on the receiving end of a hard hit from Predators forward Miikka Salomaki. Wideman's head rattled off the boards, he got up slowly, and appeared woozy as he skated to the Calgary bench.

“I was just trying to get off the ice. And, at the last second, I looked up and saw him," Wideman explained post-game. "I couldn’t avoid it. I didn’t know where to go or how to get out of the way of him.”

Wideman did not, however, leave the bench to undergo concussion protocol. He cleared protocol some time after the game and returned to practice with the Flames.

"Throughout my career I think I've treated every official with the utmost respect and I'd never try to intentionally hit a linesman or ref," Wideman said.

In making its case, the NHLPA was using medical evidence to explain Wideman's actions.

"Given that it was undisputed that Dennis suffered a concussion mere seconds prior to his collision with linesman Don Henderson, we felt strongly that there should have been no discipline," the NHLPA said in statement Friday.

"Nonetheless we are pleased that Arbitrator Oldham found that the collision was not intentional and that the suspension was reduced to 10 games. We respect the process and the decision and we look forward to Dennis returning to the ice tonight with his teammates."

The Flames host the Arizona Coyotes Friday night, and Wideman should be available.