The first-ever NHL suspension reviewed by a neutral discipline arbitrator under the new collective bargaining agreement has resulted in James Oldham reducing commissioner Gary Bettman’s decision on the Dennis Wideman appeal from 20 to 10 games.
The NHL and NHLPA on Friday released Oldham’s 17-page opinion that evaluated Bettman’s ruling on the Calgary Flames’ defenseman Wideman and his vicious cross-check of linesman Donald Henderson on Jan. 27.
The league initially suspended Wideman for 20 games. Bettman upheld that decision on Wideman’s first appeal to the NHL on Feb. 2, and Wideman had sat out 19 games approaching Calgary’s home game Friday night against the Arizona Coyotes.
Oldham, ruled, however: “The Commissioner’s conclusion …that Wideman’s behavior constituted intentional action within the meaning of rule 40.2, automatically triggering a penalty of not less than twenty games, is not endorsed in this appeal because, in my opinion, that conclusion is not substantially supported by the totality of the evidence presented to me.
“In my judgment,” Oldham continued, “the proper penalty should have been that specified in league rule 40.3. Taking into account Wideman’s eleven years of discipline-free performance as a professional hockey player, there is no occasion to go beyond the ten game minimum specified in Rule 40.3. Dennis Wideman’s penalty, therefore, should be reduced from twenty games to ten games.”
The NHL lost its case with the arbitrator reviewing the 20-game suspension of Dennis Wideman.
The NHL released a frustrated statement that clearly marked what they thought of Oldham’s ruling.
“We are in receipt of Arbitrator James Oldham’s Opinion in the appeal of Dennis Wideman’s supplementary discipline suspension and reducing the suspension from 20 to 10 games,” the NHL wrote. “We strenuously disagree with the arbitrator’s ruling and are reviewing the opinion in detail to determine what next steps may be appropriate. We will have no further comment until we have completed our review. In light of and in response to Arbitrator Oldham’s opinion, Mr. Wideman will be reinstated and will be eligible to participate in his team’s games, effective immediately.”
Wideman presumably, however, is due money returned by the NHL for the nine games that he was forced to sit out above Oldham’s recommendation, given that the suspension required the forfeiture of 20 game checks.
The NHL Players’ Association applauded the decision.
“Given that it was undisputed that Dennis suffered a concussion mere seconds prior to his collision with linesman Don Henderson, we felt strongly that there should have been no discipline. Nonetheless we are pleased that Arbitrator Oldham found that the collision was not intentional and that the suspension was reduced to 10 games. We respect the process and the decision and we look forward to Dennis returning to the ice tonight with his teammates.”