Neutral arbitrator reduces Wideman's suspension to 10 games from 20
A neutral arbitrator reduced Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman's suspension for making contact with an official from 20 games to 10 on Friday, the NHL and NHLPA announced.
The incident occurred on Jan. 27, when Wideman, on his way to the Flames' bench after taking a big hit, which left him dazed, collided with linesman Don Henderson. The collision appeared to have been made with intent, according to the league, and Henderson reportedly suffered a concussion as a result.
Arbitrator James Oldham wrote in his ruling:
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.
Wideman said the incident was completely unintentional, and apologized to Henderson. He's already missed 19 games during the appeal process, and Friday's decision will save him over $280,000 in salary, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.
On Feb. 17, Gary Bettman announced the suspension would be upheld after the league reviewed the incident and the NHL commissioner met with Wideman. Bettman said Wideman refused to accept responsibility for his actions, citing a text message Wideman sent to a former teammate in which he blamed the fallout from the incident on "stupid refs and stupid media."
The NHLPA issued a statement, saying it is pleased with the ruling:
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. 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.
Wideman's under contract for another season at a salary of $6 million, and a cap number of $5.25 million. He'll turn 33 on March 20.