Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman has been suspended 20 games for his hit on linesman Don Henderson.
Deliberations took nearly two hours at the league offices, with Henderson, NHL Officials Association (NHLOA) President Dan O’Halloran, and NHLOA Chief Legal Counsel Harry Radomski in attendance. The Flames were represented by team president Brian Burke, general manager Brad Treliving, and assistant GM Craig Conroy. Wideman was present, as were representatives from the NHLPA including Mathieu Schneider.
The play happened in the second period of the game between the Flames and the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, January 27 in Calgary. Wideman, as he skated off the ice, delivered a shove – possibly a cross-check – to the back of an unsuspecting Henderson.
Henderson remained in the game, though he was later treated at the hospital before being released. Wideman also finished the match, as he was not penalized on the play. Both referees’ attention was directed at the game action, as it should be, and not on a trailing player heading off for a line change, hence the failure to penalize Wideman for the hit.
As there was no abuse of official penalty called on the play, Rule 40 did not automatically come into effect. If it did, we’d be likely looking at an automatic 10-game suspension per Rule 40.3:
Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions as set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games.
Or possibly greater, per 40.2, if the league felt there was an intent to injure:
Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games. (For the purpose of the rule, “intent to injure” shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury.)
Instead, the ruling – which came down from Colin Campbell’s Hockey Operations unit, rather than the Department of Player Safety – fell under Rule 40.6, related to Abuse of Officials:
In the event that the player has committed more than one offense under this rule, in addition to the penalties imposed under this offense, his case shall be referred to the Commissioner of the League for consideration of supplementary disciplinary action.
The Commissioner’s approach to Supplementary Discipline is covered in Rule 28:
[T]he Commissioner may, at his discretion, investigate any incident that occurs in connection with any Pre-season, Exhibition, League or Playoff game and may asses additional fines and/or suspensions for any offense committed during the course of a game or any aftermath thereof by a player, goalkeeper, Trainer, Manager, Coach or non-playing Club personnel or Club executive, whether or not such offense has been penalized by the Referee.
Wideman stands to lose $564,516.20 of his $5.25MM annual salary as a result of this suspension. He’d be eligible to return to the lineup on Monday, March 14, when the Flames take on the Arizona Coyotes. (Safe to assume linesman Don Henderson will be working elsewhere that night…)
Per CBA Section 18.12, Wideman can appeal the suspension to Commissioner Gary Bettman. If, after further review, Bettman upholds a suspension that is six games or greater in length, Wideman can then appeal to a Neutral Discipline Arbitrator. Such filing must be made within seven days. The appeal would require another in-person hearing, with the outcome final, binding, and not subject to further review. Wideman would remain suspended throughout the course of his appeal.
20 games for Wideman is steep and will likely be appealed, but a larger number was expected.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) February 3, 2016
When then-New York Ranger Dan Carcillo was suspended for contact with linesman Scott Driscoll, the subsequent appeal reduced Carcillo’s suspension from ten games to six. In his decision, Bettman noted the ‘premium’ value of playoff games versus regular season matches.
It would not be surprising to see Wideman appeal the suspension in hopes of a reduced sentence, especially since Wideman claimed the hit was unintentional:
“I took a pretty good hit down in the corner and had some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck,” Wideman said. “I was just trying to get off the ice and kind of keeled over. At the last second, I looked up and saw [Henderson] and couldn’t avoid it. 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.”
Around the League
While current NHL officials were reportedly asked to remain silent on the hit, pending the hearing, past league officials have offered their thoughts.
Former NHL referee Paul Stewart took a look at some related past incidents, defending the non-call on the ice and ultimately finding Wideman accountable, regardless of the impact from the hit he suffered just moments before.
“A player is still responsible for his own actions, and using any degree of physical force on an official, regardless of “extenuating circumstances”, is unacceptable. It has to be a zero tolerance policy.”
“I still believe there was some deliberate — not with intent to injure, but that is not necessary for a suspension — action on Wideman’s part in the way he raised his arms and extended his stick. As others have pointed out, if he had enough presence of mind to get up after the hit, head toward the bench and get his stick up, he also had the wherewithal to cushion a potential collision as he saw one was inevitable.”
You can hear more of Stewie’s thoughts in an interview he did with TSN 1290.
Retired referee Denis Morel told Sportsnet:
“It doesn’t matter if he got hit before, or if he was not in full [consciousness]. No less than 10 games for sure. That was, in my books, a cheap shot. I wouldn’t mind [a 20 game suspension] in this situation. It would give a good example to the players.”
A former NHL linesman with over 25 years of experience also weighed in, via Sportsnet:
“[Wideman] looks for a call and doesn’t get one. So, in my mind he’s pissed off at the referees at that point. I read what he said, and I know he apologized. However, he’s looking straight ahead. He’s not dazed, just a little bit hurt in my opinion. Then he sees [linesman Don Henderson], he’s pissed off at anything in stripes, and he whacks him.”
“What else could it be? He doesn’t try to get out of Henderson’s way. Hockey players are pretty good skaters. Even if he sees him at the last second, does that mean he has to cross check him in the back? It was a dirty thing, and he knew what he was doing in my mind.”
Referee Kerry Fraser called for a 10-game suspension in his TSN column:
“While I believe contact at this point was unavoidable, I do not accept or condone the finishing push of Wideman’s hands that exacerbated the degree of impact and caused a hard fall to the ice by the linesman.”
“I would ask Wideman why he didn’t bear hug the defenseless linesman to minimize the contact. Why didn’t he decelerate his forward motion in any way to reduce the impact? Finally, I would ask why he felt it necessary to extend his arms and finish the contact with a strong push on the back of linesman Henderson.”
“I determine that Wideman’s needless and dangerous shove from behind with total disregard for the safety of the linesman to be worthy of a suspension not less than 10 games.”
Even Don Cherry acknowledged the likelihood of a suspension, despite Cherry’s belief that the hit was unintentional:
“What happened was he was stunned. That was a pretty good hit in the corner. He looked up and he saw somebody coming at him. He was just ticked off. I don’t think he thought it was the lineman. He just saw a body coming at him.”
“That’s too bad. He’ll probably get some games because you can’t touch an official.”
Damien Cox, though, felt that the penalty should be minimal:
“[I]t was an official, and officials should be protected. They are non-combatants in a rough, violent sport. So it has become a matter for additional discipline, and because Wideman has to be responsible to some degree, something between two to five games would be fair. But 10? Or 20? That’s absurd.”
While a suspension seems likely, the length of it is significant. The league simply can’t tolerate physical contact with the officials for any reason. Wideman – potential concussion or not – needed to be held accountable for his actions.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector summed it up brilliantly:
If the league low-balls this suspension — anything under 10 games, in my opinion — there will be a response from the NHLOA members. Again, only my speculation: Whether they work to rule, call everything the first night back, or call nothing, if the perception is that the game doesn’t have Don Henderson’s back the zebras will make it clear — for a period of time — that they don’t have the game’s back either.
In this case, it’s great to see the NHL’s Hockey Operations department follow the spirit of Rule 40. While Rule 40.2 did not automatically require a 20-game suspension, the league felt that was the right call and ruled accordingly.