League stands up for officials with Dennis Wideman suspension

Faced with an almost impossible task in trying to determine what to do with Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman after he ploughed into unsuspecting linesman Don Henderson a week ago, the NHL came as close to a perfect resolution as could be expected.

That doesn't mean the whopper 20-game suspension -- handed down after a lengthy in-person hearing with both Wideman and Henderson -- won't be the subject of much debate and caterwauling.

Indeed, within seconds of the suspension breaking, Twitter was afire with howls that Wideman got off easy or was the subject of far too severe a penalty.

Faced with all kinds of variables, possibilities and rationalizations that came with this bizarre incident, this was the only answer for the league.

Regardless of whether Wideman felt woozy having just been drilled by the Nashville Predators' Miikka Salomaki, regardless of whether it was an involuntary kind of motion that saw Wideman shockingly flatten Henderson from behind as Wideman made his way to the Calgary bench, the NHL simply cannot have this happen.

It can't happen anytime.

And the NHL left no room for debate about that as it handed down one of the lengthiest suspensions in league history.

Not to stretch the bounds of comparisons too far, but there is a reason that doing harm to police and first responders subjects one to harsher penalties. Those people put themselves in harm's way to perform a service. Those who imperil them should face stiffer repercussions.

The NHL's referees and linesmen are tasked with keeping order in a world of extreme mayhem.

No other sports officials face a more dangerous environment than NHL on-ice officials given the speed at which the game is played by some of the sport's finest athletes.

You can quibble with how they do their jobs vis-à-vis whether that hooking call was just or whether they missed a high stick or interference call. But you cannot quibble with the risk to which they are exposed to every night.

And the NHL could not be seen as being anything less than wholly supportive of its men in black and white.

The 20-game suspension says this: "Sorry Dennis, we may believe you had no intention to do harm to our linesman, we're glad you apologized to Don and we know you're not that kind of guy, but in this case none of that matters, you're gone."

At its simplest terms, the NHL ruled Wednesday that it was going to have its officials' backs. As it should.

Now, the big question is whether commissioner Gary Bettman will stand alongside his own league officials who presided over the case.

The NHL players' association announced Wednesday night that it will appeal Wideman's suspension.

In 2008, Michael Peca had his 10-game suspension for grabbing the arm of an official reduced by Bettman to five games.

The Wideman hit on Henderson is completely different given the violence of the altercation and Henderson's helplessness in being toppled from behind. Now the NHL commissioner must judge what message is sent by reducing the 20-game ban.

If Bettman reduces the suspension to six games or more (or if the suspension remains at 20 games, obviously) Wideman would still have the ability to appeal to a third-party arbitrator.

But the ball will land first in Bettman's court. Any reduction will tell us that the commissioner does not put the same value on his on-ice officials as other league officials.

And that would be a shame.