Upholding Dennis Wideman's ban challenges NHLPA to continue appeal

A text Dennis Wideman sent to a teammate was used against the Flames defenseman in his appeal. Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports

It seemed to take an awfully long time for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to come to what seems to be a most logical conclusion: Dennis Wideman's 20-game suspension for crushing unsuspecting linesman Don Henderson from behind was in fact a just and fair punishment for an unusual act of violence against an official.

It will become a footnote in this curious tale that it took a full week from the time of the Calgary Flames defenseman's appeal hearing to the time a ruling was announced by the commissioner. What won't be forgotten is that Bettman stood behind the original ruling reinforcing that this act -- whatever the circumstances, however foggy Wideman might have been from a hit taken moments before -- is indefensible.

That's not to say this was an easy decision for the oft-criticized commissioner.

It would have been easy for Bettman to reduce the ban to 15 games, or even lower. Such a move might have acted as a pre-emptive strike to keep Wideman from appealing to an independent third-party arbitrator; a smoothing of the rough edges of the 20-game ban -- one of the longest in NHL history.

But in upholding the suspension, the line is drawn in the sand vis a vis the league's stand on abuse of officials.

And that should be a no-brainer. Just as the initial punishment was important in reinforcing that to players, team officials and on-ice officials, so too was Bettman's ruling upholding the ban.

Beyond that, the league has also thrown down the gauntlet to Wideman and the National Hockey League Players' Association.

No player has used the third-party appeal mechanism since it was introduced in the last collective bargaining agreement.

The NHLPA made it official Wednesday night that Wideman will be the first to go down that path.

But it's clear from the reasons cited by Bettman in Thursday's ruling -- including what appears to be a rather shocking lack of remorse on Wideman's part, including a text message he sent to a teammate which stated: "[T]he only problem and the only reason I'm here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media." -- that the league has made the correct decisions at every marker and will be able to adequately defend itself on appeal.

In some ways, this is where the story gets interesting.