<
>

System failed all involved in Dennis Wideman ruling

play
Why Wideman's suspension was reduced (2:54)

ESPN NHL writer Scott Burnside explains why an arbitrator ruled that Dennis Wideman should be suspended 10 games for hitting an official instead of the 20 games handed down by the NHL. (2:54)

If you just took the actual steps involved in the Dennis Wideman appeal -- a process that lasted nearly as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup drought but with more interesting emails -- you might be persuaded that the system has its merits.

After taking a hard hit into the boards, Wideman flattened defenseless linesman Don Henderson on Jan. 27. The Calgary Flames defenseman was then suspended 20 games by senior NHL executive Colin Campbell .

That suspension was upheld by commissioner Gary Bettman, who as part of his ruling revealed the contents of a message Wideman sent Gregory Campbell, who is Colin Campbell's son, in which Wideman complained the entire situation was all the fault of the "stupid refs, stupid media."

You can supply your own face-slap here. Wideman deserves to be suspended for straight out cluelessness just for sending that text.

Then, for the first time since the mechanism was included in the last collective bargaining agreement, a player appealed the commissioner's ruling to an independent arbitrator. And on Friday James Oldham ruled that Wideman's suspension should be reduced to 10 games.

There you go. It's as simple as A-B-C.

Even if you think Oldham's decision is deeply flawed -- as I do -- that's how the system works.

Unfortunately, it's everything that happened between the start and the finish that throws the entire Wideman case into the "cluster" category.

By the time Oldham got around to deciding that Wideman wasn't really trying to hurt Henderson, Wideman had missed 19 games. Nineteen.

Imagine for a minute that this was a player on a team desperate to clinch a playoff spot. Perhaps the process would have moved more quickly if the suspended player was Jonathan Toews or Claude Giroux or Sidney Crosby. But it was Wideman, a player with no history of formal discipline in his long NHL career but who is also a middling player on a middling team with no playoff hopes to speak of.

For whatever reason, the case became crippled by inertia in terms of scheduling hearings and post-hearing debriefing among the league, NHL Players' Aassociation and Oldham.

In the future, one assumes that the league and NHLPA will find a way to avoid the embarrassment that has now marked this decision by ensuring that cases are heard in a timely fashion. If Oldham wasn't prepared to hear the case, they should have found someone else to hear the case.

It's true that you can't hurry justice. In fact, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said basically that in Toronto when asked about the case.

The fact remains that the process did a grave disservice to Wideman and really to the game itself.

Not surprisingly, the NHL "strenuously" objected to Oldham's decision.

And the NHLPA, which felt there should be no disciplinary action because they thought Wideman was not responsible for his actions having been concussed on the preceding play, applauded halving the suspension, which will save Wideman $282,258.10.

The money is not an insignificant element to this. As the glacial-like process moved along and the games ticked away from Wideman's initial suspension, it became clear that this was only going to be about getting some cash back.

Indeed, maybe Oldham was more at ease with reducing the suspension since it ended up being more about recouping money than getting back on the ice.

Unfortunately, what Oldham seems to have missed is that on-ice officials need to be treated differently when it comes to their safety.

Oldham knows nothing more than Bettman did about Wideman's mindset. Taking into account the same evidence, Oldham believed that 10 games was enough for concussing Henderson, who has not worked a game since and may not return this season.

No one will ever know Wideman's true intent, but the actions are the actions and the results are undeniable. Sadly, that's the kind of ruling that comes from someone who may be independent and neutral but who fails to grasp the importance of officials' roles and how their safety must be sacrosanct.

In that way, just as the system failed Wideman and the game, Oldham failed Henderson and all on-ice officials.