If you bet on NHL playoffs last season then you’re well aware that the Calgary Flames were nowhere to be seen. Although the Flames had made it to the second round in the previous year, and a solid offseason sent fans’ hope sailing, they were unable to find any sort of success. In fact the highlight of Calgary’s 2015 – 2016 season is the suspension handed out to Dennis Wideman. Wideman has been at the center of controversy for cross-checking a linesman on his way to the bench after suffering a concussion inducing hit. Wideman had to suffer a 20-game suspension and forfeit a good portion of his salary ($564,516.18 to be exact) for striking the official. Eventually, the NHLPA (National Hockey League Players’ Association) appealed Wideman’s suspension to a 3rd party neutral arbitrator. This was the first time the NHLPA was exercising its right to do so after the renewed collective bargaining agreement. James Oldham, a professor of law at Georgetown University, received the nod to become the arbitrator. On March 11th he decided that Wideman’s cross-check was not intentional due to the blow he had just received to the head. Oldham ruled that Wideman should be punished for an incidental hit on the referee, instead of an intentional one. Thus reducing Wideman’s suspension to 10-games and refunding half of the money that Wideman had forfeited. While both the Flames and Wideman were hoping this would be the end of this incident, it seems the NHL is bent on making an example out of Wideman.
In response to Oldham’s conclusion the NHL decided to file a lawsuit on June 8th in an effort to reverse Oldham’s decision. The NHL stated that the arbitrator “exceeded his authority” therefore the ruling cannot stand. You can always bet on the NHL to protect its own interests and this appeal is a prime example. The league needs to be able to control the discussion around concussions and place as much accountability on the players as it can. The NHLPA has until Friday to respond.
There is no questioning the fact that Wideman was severely disoriented, but sportsbook users can raise questions regarding how intentional his blow to the linesman was. After taking a bone-crushing check into the boards, Wideman stumbled to his feet and made his way towards the bench. It was at this point the 202 lb. defenseman came across Dennis Henderson, who was skating backwards parallel to the boards. Wideman then raised his stick, cross-checked the linesman, and one Dennis sent the other Dennis face first to the ice. Henderson suffered such a mighty blow that he was knocked unconscious, suffered a concussion, and has yet to be cleared for a return to the ice.
“I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go and how to get out of the way.” Wideman said in response to the incident. “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.”
The importance of this case is accentuated by the current lawsuit facing the NHL. Former NHL players are suing the league for refusing to inform them of the dangers of playing the sport, specifically the link between multiple concussions and CTE (a degenerative brain disease). The league is adamant about holding Wideman accountable, and you can bet on NHL to try and use this case to further their narrative that concussions do not lead to brain damage. Ultimately this case plays a major role in how the league will approach concussions in the future.