Dennis Wideman’s suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson has been reduced to 10 games by an independent arbitrator. 

Wideman was initially suspended for 20 games for the hit, which came in the second period of a game between the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators on January 26.  Commissioner Gary Bettman upheld the suspension after the NHLPA’s initial appeal.  The ruling was then sent to an arbitrator – in this case, James Oldham – for a final ruling. 

Read more in our article on the original hit and suspension

Oldham’s decision supports the use of Rule 40 – Abuse of Officials as a logical framework, but differs on the determination of ‘deliberate’ contact. 

League Rule 40.3 provides for an automatic penalty of not less than ten games for Category II offenses – including when a player ‘deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure.’ This is the description into which, in my opinion, Wideman’s actions fit easily.

Oldman also examined the parenthetical portion of Rule 40.2, which covers reasonable expectations. Oldham’s distinction is an important one, using the mental state of the offender – not an independent observer – to base his ruling. 

Rule 40.3 excludes actions set out in Category I (that is, in League Rule 40.2), and the parenthetical within rule 40.2 states the following: ‘(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.)’

The League argues that Wideman’s actions were, at the least, actions that Wideman knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury. Commissioner Bettman agreed.  What, exactly, Wideman should have known, however, is not an easy question to answer.

I do not think the parenthetical language should be interpreted as introducing the idealized ‘reasonable person’ who occupies such a prominent place in the developed common law. I construe the parenthetical as encompassing what the player should have known, taking into account the specific circumstances that occurred.

In Wideman’s case, this means taking into account his concussed state, and I do not believe that in his concussed state, Wideman could or should have anticipated that his push would cause Henderson to fall and bang his head against the boards sufficiently hard to put Henderson also in a concussed state.

Oldham cited Wideman’s lack of disciplinary history over his eleven-year career as an indication of how out-of-character this behavior was — something he attributed, as the NHLPA argued, to Wideman’s concussion.

The NHL also released a statement on the ruling. “We strenuously disagree with the Arbitrator’s ruling and are reviewing the Opinion in detail to determine what next steps may be appropriate,” said the league via press release. “We will have no further comment until we have completed our review.”

Though the arbitrator’s decision is the final ruling per the CBA, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said the league may not be done:

While that remains to be seen, Wideman’s suspension is officially over.  He’s eligible to return to the Flames’ lineup tonight against the Arizona Coyotes.   He’ll also get a partial return on the salary he lost while sitting out. 

Linesman Don Henderson, though, remains out indefinitely.

Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun reported in February that the veteran official was still suffering concussion-related symptoms. 

“He still can’t do anything because he hasn’t gone two days symptom-free,” said a source familiar with Henderson’s back pain and concussion struggles since the collision that earned Wideman a 20-game suspension.

“I don’t think he’s coming back anytime soon, if at all.”

“At this point, it makes sense to shut ’er down,” the source added. “He only had one or two years left anyway.”