The long, protracted, legal wrangling around Dennis Wideman’s suspension for abuse of officials has finally come to an end.
A U.S. district court upheld the reduction of Wideman’s ban by arbitrator James Oldham, who cut the sentence from 20 games to 10.
Wideman, a defenseman with the Calgary Flames, cross-checked linesman Don Henderson from behind during a game against the Nashville Predators on January 27, 2016. Wideman was suspended 20 games for Physical Abuse of Officials as a Category I offense, which requires a minimum 20 game suspension based on an intent to injure. An initial appeal by the NHL Players’ Association was denied by Commissioner Gary Bettman, who maintained the 20-game sentence. The NHLPA then appealed to a Neutral Discipline Arbitrator – then, James Oldham, who has since been relieved of his duties with the league. Oldham, through a process the NHL believed overstepped his duties, reduced Wideman’s sentence to 10 games.
“The NDA exceeded his authority under the CBA and applied his own brand of industrial justice by disregarding the standard of review set forth in the CBA,” the NHL argued in their complaint.
Wideman had already served 19 games at the time of the decision. He was reimbursed for salary forfeited in excess of his ultimate 10-game suspension.
Judge Alison Nathan, in her March 15 ruling, stated that “the Court finds that the Arbitrator, having reasonably interpreted the standard of review under the CBA, at least ‘arguably … act[ed] within the scope of his authority’ in applying that standard to the record before him.”
Nathan also added, “Language in the opinion frequently indicated that the Arbitrator understood his interpretation not simply to be the correct one, but to be the only reasonable one on the basis of the evidence before him.”
The NHL released a statement regarding the decision.
“We obviously disagree with the court’s decision today, but also recognize the very high judicial standard we needed to meet to disturb the arbitrator’s decision. While we believe we met that standard, we are prepared to turn the page and move on.”
“We are hopeful that, if and when there is next an appeal proceeding involving supplementary discipline, the Neutral Discipline Arbitrator will properly apply the standard of review we and the NHLPA negotiated and agreed to in collective bargaining. That was clearly not done in this case.”
Wideman has four goals and 13 assists in 54 games for the Flames this season. Calgary currently sits in playoff position in the Western Conference.
Henderson has not returned to the ice since the incident. There’s no word on his return.
“I don’t think he’s coming back soon,” said a source close to Henderson, as reported by the Calgary Sun’s Eric Francis, “if at all.”