Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman is currently facing a 20-game suspension for hitting an official. After all is said and done, Wideman will lose out on $564,516 in salary for the year. This is the second-longest suspension in league history, and many are saying it’s far too harsh a punishment for the crime.
Wideman violated the widely respected league rule, Rule 40, which protects the NHL officials on the ice from player violence. During the January 27th game against the Nashville Predators, Wideman crosschecked linesman Don Henderson, knocking the official to the ground. Henderson was not seriously hurt, but Wideman’s attack was unwarranted and completely against the league’s regulations. See the assault below.
After a lengthy hearing, it was finally determined that a 20-game suspension would be adequate punishment for the Calgary player, although Wideman is fighting the plea. Following the game, it was discovered that Wideman had sustained a concussion during game play, and his defense is saying that the head injury disoriented him enough to cause him to act out.
In addition, the defense argued that this was Wideman’s first offense in more than 800 games with the league. “The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman,” said the National Hockey League Player’s Association who filed an appeal Wednesday night following Tuesday’s decision.
However, league officials aren’t accepting the excuse. In a video explaining the 20-game suspension, officials stated that his concussion, even if it made him disoriented, was not enough of an excuse for “the nature and severity of the offense he committed on the ice.”
Furthermore, the NHL reported,
“Wideman did not merely bump into or collide with the linesman. He delivered a forceful blow that was no accident.”
The Flames’ president of hockey operations, Brian Burke, doesn’t agree with what the officials have to say regarding Wideman’s actions. He maintains that the collision with the official was “unintentional and accidental,” saying,
“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.”
Despite disagreeing and appealing the decision, there’s not much Burke or Wideman can do about the suspension at this point. The league has made their decision, and it will stand for a couple of reasons.
For starters, the league is forced to take preventative measures to protect themselves against a personal injury claim from the attacked official. Had the league avoided punishment, they would have been rightfully served such a lawsuit. It’s much easier for them to suspend the offending player than to handle the legal aftereffects of a poorly made decision.
The second, and most prominent reason, for their decision no doubt lies in the need to set a precedent for future NHL officials to follow. They’re establishing a zero-tolerance example for violence against officials on the ice to protect them from future crimes. Had Wideman been given an easier sentence, it may have sent the message to other players that violence against officials won’t be adequately punished.
The last time a player received this hefty of a suspension was with Gordie Dwyer who played for the Tampa Bay Lightnings. He was suspended for 23 games following abuse of an official during an exhibition game in 2000. Compared to that, a 20-game suspension for Dennis Wideman’s offense seems to be the NHL’s version of lightening up.
[Image via Derek Leung/Getty Images]