Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke has never been one to mince words and he wasn’t going to start Wednesday after he heard the news the NHL had upheld Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension.
“We disagree vehemently with the decision that was reached here,” Burke told Tim and Sid. “We were astonished by it, we don’t understand it, we disagree with it completely.”
Burke wasn’t only upset that the suspension was upheld, but he questioned why the process has taken as long as it has. Wideman was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 28. The league announced the 20-game ban Feb. 3 and the NHLPA filed an appeal that same day. An appeal hearing with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took place Feb. 10 and the suspension was upheld Feb. 17.
“We’ve been asking for a result for several days, saying ‘when’s this going to come down?’ Because now, if this is appealed to the neutral arbitrator, they’ve virtually guaranteed that the player’s going to do 10 games no matter what because it’s going to take a couple days to get this thing put all together,” Burke said. “So to take a week to rubber-stamp a decision that was made by the hockey operations department of the National Hockey League as games tick off for my player, that affect my team’s ability to win, that affect playoff races, that affect competitive balance, is incomprehensible to me.”
Burke added: “We’re not questioning the integrity of the process — the appeal has gone to the commissioner, if all he’s going to do is rubber-stamp it we accept that, but then do it quickly so it can get to this third party. The only objection we have here is the timing of this and of course we disagree with the first decision. We believe this was an accidental collision between our player — a player with an 800-game career almost with no prior instance, never had a major penalty other than fighting majors, never got a five for hitting from behind, never got a high-sticking foul, never had an issue with an official.
“If you look at these Rule 40 offences they fall into two categories: Either this player had a beef with the official involved or he had a beef with another player and was disrespectful to an official. So he’s either trying to settle a score or he’s trying to settle a score with a player and disregards an official in the process. This is not that case. This is a player that’s trying to get to the bench.”
One reason Bettman upheld the suspension was that he didn’t believe Wideman’s apologies to linesman Don Henderson and league officials were sincere.
“I am troubled by Mr. Wideman’s total failure to accept any responsibility for his actions,” Bettman wrote in a 22-page dissertation released Wednesday. “Indeed, although he made much at the hearing about the apologies he had already made to Mr. Henderson, the sincerity of those apologies rings somewhat hollow given the text message he sent to a teammate on February 2—after the conclusion of the hearing before Mr. Campbell — that ‘[t]he only problem and the only reason I’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.’ (Exh. B) Nevertheless, in light of Mr. Wideman’s prior exemplary disciplinary record, I decline to increase the suspension imposed by Mr. Campbell, which corresponds to the minimum penalty that would apply if Rule 40. 2 were applicable.”
Burke later told Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan the entire situation is regrettable because a linesman was injured but said Wideman’s apology was sincere, as was his and Flames’ GM Brad Treliving’s apology to the league.