Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman received a 20-game suspension for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson in last week’s game against the Predators.
The NHL released a video explaining its decision Wednesday.
Though it was later revealed that Wideman was concussed in the game in question, the NHL determined that any disorientation he may have experienced because of a hit was no excuse for “the nature and severity of the offense he committed on the ice.” The NHL referred to the contact as “a forceful blow that was no accident.”
Just before the incident, Wideman had taken a hit from Predators forward Miikka Salomaki and was on his way to the bench when he made contact with Henderson.
Wideman has claimed all along that the contact was unintentional. In a post-game interview, Wideman explained that he was distracted by the hit from Salomaki.
“At the last second, I looked up and saw [Henderson] and couldn’t avoid it,” Wideman said following the game. “I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go and how to get out of the way.
“I’ve been around for a few years, and I think I’ve treated every official with the utmost respect, and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref. It was completely unintentional, and I already apologized to him.”
The National Hockey League Players Association has filed an appeal on behalf of Wideman.
“We strongly disagree with the League’s decision to suspend Dennis Wideman,” the NHLPA said in its statement. “Dennis has played in 11 NHL seasons and almost 800 games without incident. The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman.”
Commissioner Gary Bettman will review this appeal and will be able to adjust the length of the suspension. If the suspension is still more than six games after Bettman’s ruling, Wideman can then file an additional appeal for an independent arbitrator to finalize the length of the suspension.
In a statement released Wednesday, Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke said, “We disagree with the severity of today’s suspension ruling and maintain that Dennis’ collision with the linesman was unintentional and accidental. We agree that our officials’ safety and well-being is of extreme importance in order to allow them to perform their duties. They perform an invaluable but underappreciated role in our game. We support sanctions against players who make deliberate contact with any official. However, unintentional and accidental contact does occur at times in our game.”
If the suspension is unaltered, Wideman will forfeit more than $560,000; the money will go to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
I personally believe that this suspension is warranted. It is clear in the video that Wideman was, at the very least, dazed, stunned and confused after the hit from Salomaki. However, regardless of his intent, this was a vicious hit by a professional hockey player on a completely defenseless official. Referees have to be protected, and allowing something as egregious as this would only set a dangerous precedent. Plus, at the end of the day, players have been suspended for doing much less. Even if Wideman didn’t know what planet he was on at the time of the contact, he is still responsible for his actions. Just like players are always responsible for their sticks, they must always be responsible for their actions on the ice. This was not a high-speed collision or just an unlucky series of events. Wideman blatantly decks Henderson.
The most recent example of a similar situation was when Dan Carcillo made contact with an official in the playoffs a few seasons ago. Carcillo was ejected from the game and was initially given a 10-game suspension; however, Bettman later reduced the suspension to six games because of the “premium” importance of playoff games compared to regular-season games. However, there is no comparison between Carcillo’s contact with the referee and Wideman’s hit. It would be very surprising if Bettman reduces this suspension by much, if anything. The referees have to be protected, and there is no real way to determine intent. Even if Wideman had the best of intentions, it simply looks bad in the video, and that’s what the NHL has to go with. Wideman isn’t special just because he’s been in the league for 11 years and hasn’t hurt an official before. That is true of 99.9 percent of players in the league. Even if he had legitimate arguments with any validity, I don’t see how the NHL can let this go…
Featured Image via NBC Sports