NHL dismisses neutral arbitrator from Dennis Wideman case

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says they were disappointed by the arbitrator's decision to cut Dennis Wideman's suspension in half, but says the league will continue to examine the case.

The NHL has dismissed James Oldham from his position as neutral arbitrator, according to Liz Mullen of Sports Business Journal.

Oldham was assigned to the case of Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman, who was suspended 20 games for cross-checking NHL linesman Don Henderson from behind on Jan. 27.

An initial appeal resulted in the suspension being upheld by commissioner Gary Bettman, but Wideman and the NHLPA opted to present the case to a neutral party.

Oldham, who has served as an impartial arbitrator for the league since 2004, reduced the original suspension to 10 games on March 11 — a decision the NHL did not agree with.

At the time, Wideman had already sat out 19 of his 20 games, but Oldham’s ruling meant he would be reimbursed $282,258.06 in lost pay. The linesman suffered a concussion as a result of Wideman’s hit and has not returned to work.

On June 9, the NHL filed a lawsuit against the Players’ Association, seeking to restore Wideman’s original suspension and stating that Oldham “applied his own brand of industrial justice” by ignoring Bettman’s findings during the first appeal process.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the following to Yahoo! Sports, via a league spokesman, on June 9:

“We can confirm that the National Hockey League today filed an action in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York seeking to vacate Arbitrator James Oldham’s arbitration decision reducing the League’s supplementary discipline suspension to Player Dennis Wideman from 20 to 10 games. We believe that Arbitrator Oldham, in reaching his decision, exceeded his contractual authority by failing to properly apply the parties’ collectively bargained standard of review.

“Today’s action was motivated primarily by our regard for the collective bargaining process and the importance of maintaining and safeguarding the parties’ reasonable expectations arising from the agreements made in that process. The timing of today’s filing was dictated exclusively by the requirements of the federal rules governing these actions. We do not intend to offer any further comment pending the conclusion of the court’s review.”

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