Following an in-person hearing Tuesday, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman has been suspended 20 games for hitting veteran linesman Don Henderson during a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Jan. 27. Officially, Wideman was cited for violating Rule 40, which covers physical abuse of officials.
As a result of the suspension, the veteran defenseman will also forfeit $564,516.80 in salary. It is the second longest suspension handed down by the NHL this season, next to the 41-game ban Raffi Torres received for an illegal hit during the preseason.
According to reports, he was represented by the NHLPA and Flames organization in his defense at the hearing. Henderson was also on hand, per reports, with representatives from the NHL Officials Association there as well. The NHL’s Hockey Operations department was ultimately responsible for the disciplinary decision.
Here's a refresher on the play in question:
In the lead-up to the hearing, this hit has caused the league some major headaches from an optics standpoint, but there were also a number of factors that had to be strongly considered in rendering a decision.
First off, the most important thing here is that an official was sent to the ice by the actions of a player, whether intentional or unintentional. Wideman argued he didn’t see Henderson until it was too late. Secondly, another hugely important factor is that Henderson reportedly spent much of the night after the game in the hospital with neck pain and nausea. He was released early the next morning.
Another factor in the hit and undoubtedly part of Wideman’s defense was that the defenseman himself took a hit along the boards which left him noticeably in some discomfort. He skated slowly back to the Flames’ bench, at times bent over. Though he should have had enough time to see Henderson, there is some reason to believe the contact was unavoidable. However, Wideman ends up extending his arms not unlike he would on an opposing player, which knocked Henderson off his feet and to the ice while dangerously close to the boards.
The last thing to factor in is that the officials on the ice did not call a penalty on Wideman. That actually may have given the league more latitude to decide the length of the suspension. When a player receives a game misconduct for abuse of an official, the league has three levels of punishment to explore based on NHL rules. Depending on severity, those rules can call for suspensions not less than three games, not less than 10 or not less than 20 games. Because there was no penalty called, it is believed that the length of the ban would be at the discretion of Colin Campbell, NHL vice president of hockey operations.
Meanwhile, the story quickly became national news, even beyond sports-specific outlets. Though Wideman maintained his belief that that the hit was unintentional and had apologized to Henderson after the game, the league was not going to whiff on protecting their officials.
This appears to be the longest suspension for a player in an incident involving an on-ice official since 1983 when Chicago Blackhawks forward Tom Lysiak received a 20-game ban for intentionally tripping a linesman. In 2014, then-New York Rangers forward Daniel Carcillo was given a 10-game ban for shoving a linesman while trying to continue an altercation. That suspension was reduced to six games.
The NHL had no choice here but to give a suspension. The length was always going to be the most important factor, however, in how this punishment is judged. Based on the 20-game ban, the league must have strongly felt that this situation was avoidable and also took into account Henderson's apparent injuries.
Wideman will be able to appeal this and it may get reduced, but the league did right by its officials in rendering this decision and sent a strong message to the rest of the league in the process.
UPDATE (7:50 p.m. ET): The NHL has released a lengthy, detailed explanation in a video for why they landed on 20 games. According to the explanation, the league cited Rule 40.2 as a guide for its punishment.
Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games. (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.)
Additionally the league confirmed that Wideman had been diagnosed with a concussion by the team doctor after the game. He refused medical attention on the bench following the hit he took from Miikka Salomaki from the Predators, which clearly had injured him.
The league maintained that the injury does not excuse the actions and that abuse of an official is among the most serious offenses a player can commit. As a result, they landed at 20 games per Rule 40.2 despite the fact that Wideman had a clean disciplinary history previously.
Additionally, Bob McKenzie of TSN reported that Henderson did indeed sustain a concussion on the play and has not yet resumed skating.
The NHLPA has already filed an appeal on Wideman's behalf.