Calgary Flames president Brian Burke defended his team’s medical staff and said the NHL and NHLPA should “streamline” the appeal process that led to defenseman Dennis Wideman missing 19 games from a suspension that was shortened to 10 games from 20 games.
Earlier in the day the arbitrator James Oldham reduced Wideman’s suspension to 10 games from 20 games for hitting linesman Don Henderson on Jan. 27. Oldham pointed out that while Wideman hit Henderson, he did so without trying to injure Henderson, who suffered a concussion on the play and hasn’t officiated a game since.
Wideman suffered a concussion right before he hit Henderson and there were questions on why the Flames medical staff didn’t pull Wideman from the game after he suffered the head injury. Wideman wasn’t penalized on the play and finished the game. The NHLPA’s defense of Wideman centered on him being woozy, which led to hitting Henderson by accident.
Burke was asked if Wideman’s concussion “fell through the cracks” with the team's medical staff.
“It’s not ‘fall through the cracks’ at all. I resent that,” Burke said. “A player can exhibit concussion symptoms after a game and our protocol was followed to the letter. The trainer spoke to him. Felt he was lucid, felt he was cogent in his remarks. And he stayed in the game and finished the game without any difficulty. After the game he complained of symptoms, was given a test and registered concussion symptoms, but nothing fell through the cracks.”
While Burke noted this was the first time this particular appeals process had gone this far, he believed it needed to move quicker in the future. The entire process took over a month to complete.
“Having gone through it now, I think you have to respect this is unchartered waters for everybody and it was a new process, it’s the first time a neutral discipline arbitrator has been involved and so to throw rocks at anyone about the length of time it took I think is counterproductive,” Burke said in a press conference with local media. “I do think they need to streamline this for the next player that goes through this.”
The appeal with the neutral arbitrator was heard Feb. 25 and Feb. 26 in New York. On Feb. 19, NHL commissioner Bettman announced the 20 games had been upheld after he heard arguments from the NHLPA. Burke ripped the process after Bettman's decision. The NHL first announced Wideman's suspension on Feb. 3. This was the first time this type of process went to a neutral arbitrator.
“With regards to the arbitrator’s decision we are grateful the finding was made that the contact was not made with any intent to injure the official involved. We believe that’s the case,” Burke said. “I consider the matter closed.”
After the announcement of the reduced suspension, the league said it disagreed with the decision and would look at other steps that “may be appropriate.”
Said Burke, “I have not spoken to anyone from the league. I’ve read the statement and I’m not sure what that means. I wouldn’t speculate.”
There is still one big unanswered question about the case. In Oldham’s decision, it was divulged a text message referenced by Bettman where Wideman ripped the "stupid refs and stupid media" as to why he was going through the process, was sent to Columbus Blue Jackets forward Gregory Campbell, son of Colin Campbell, who originally handed out the 20-game suspension. In his original ruling, Bettman believed apologies by Wideman rang, "somewhat hollow" because of the text message.
According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the text message was not sent to Gregory Campbell and instead was sent to Calgary captain Mark Giordano. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said he spoke to Wideman who told him the text was not sent to Gregory Campbell.
“We never question Colin Campbell’s integrity and the fact that his son plays in our league,” Burke said. “He has always distanced himself from any procedure that’s involved his son or his son’s team. We have complete confidence in Colin. The fact that it was to his son or from his son makes no difference to us.”
Wideman is slated to play tonight against the Arizona Coyotes. He will speak after the game. He has yet to talk publicly since Friday's announcement.
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