The NHL suspended Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman 20 games on Wednesday. Here's what led to that:
Wideman appeared to maliciously and intentionally cross-check linesman Don Henderson in the game last Wednesday. From that perspective, a 20-game ban is more than fair. But that's just looking at it from face value. There's a lot more to consider:
1. Wideman does not have a history that suggests he'd ever do something like this to a fellow player, let alone an official. He has 471 penalty minutes in 755 career NHL games. This isn't a guy who has this sort of reputation -- even if, as some have speculated, Wideman was pissed off about a non-call earlier in the game.
2. On the play immediately preceding the hit, Wideman collided with the glass, and grabbed his head. He reportedly told the NHL at his hearing on Tuesday that he was "woozy" as he was skating back to the bench. The commentator on Sportsnet even said he looked woozy. You can judge for yourself:
His first reaction after he's hit in the corner is to grab his head. How much more evidence do we need that this was a head injury?
Given that and given his history, it's much easier to imagine a scenario in which Wideman did this accidentally -- that he either thought Henderson was an opposing player, or that Henderson caught him off guard and he was reacting to the surprise, or that he was otherwise confused.
Imagine for a second: You're dazed, trying to get your bearings on the way back to the bench, and all of a sudden you realize something is right in front of you. You don't know what it is, but you're on a playing surface where people often hit each other. Your instinct would probably be a defensive one, yeah?
The alternative explanation is that, all of a sudden after a decade in the NHL, Dennis Wideman turned into the kind of dude that would sucker-check an official from behind.
What's easier to believe?
Now, think of the league's perspective in handing out a 20-game ban. They have two big things to concern themselves with.
1. As Mark Spector wrote last week, the officials' union would have gone completely bananas had this been a small suspension, or no suspension at all. The league has plenty of motive to side with the officials, and throughout history they have often sided with protecting their officials at all costs. (They don't even let them talk to the media after controversial calls, like many other sports and leagues do.)
2. If they came out and admitted that Wideman had a head injury, and that he was concussed and so confused that he did this accidentally, how could they justify Wideman remaining in the game the way he did? He was only given a cursory check by the training staff on the bench, and certainly was not required to go back to the "quiet room" as NHL concussion protocol typically demands in these cases.
That would be an indictment of their player safety and concussion protocols. It would be an admission -- in the midst of a serious legal situation where former players are suing them for their alleged negligence regarding head injuries -- that they are still getting it wrong despite all we know about concussions today.
I've watched this tape probably 100 times now, and I cannot for the life of me see this as a situation where Wideman was maliciously doing that. And as a result, I can't see a situation where a 20 game suspension is fair here.
Unless the NHL's trying to protect its own interests and not those of its players. In that case, I can see it.
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SB Nation presents: Calgary Flames' Dennis Wideman cross-checks referee
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