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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released his appeal ruling on Wednesday regarding Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman. To the surprise of no one, he upheld the 20-game suspension that Wideman received for a bizarre cross-checking incident involving linesman Don Henderson on Jan. 27.
The case will now likely move to an independent arbitrator for a final appeal, as per the rules laid out in the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The only intrigue about the ruling by Bettman was how he would handle the NHLPA’s contention that Wideman was concussed at the time of the incident, which led to his cross-check to Henderson’s back on the way to the Calgary bench. Wideman was hit hard before the incident. While he didn’t speak of any concussion symptoms after the game, he was diagnosed with one later (as was Henderson).
The NHLPA put forth two medical witnesses: Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher and Dr. Paul Comper, experts in clinical neuropsychology. You can read the full rebuttal by the NHL on the concussion issue here in this PDF:
Basically, the NHL’s contention is that neither of these experts physically evaluated Wideman in person. Rather, they spoke with him remotely and took his word for how he felt at the time – days after the incident and the indefinite suspension the NHL handed down. And there's been some contradiction between those statements and what the video showed.
Essentially, the NHL tossed out the concussion speculation by the experts for that reason, and because their testimony at times contradicted what the video showed on the play:
And Bettman disregarded Wideman’s testimony for the same reason. A snippet:
Again, this is really, really important for the NHL. The NHLPA is using a concussion defense, which if accepted could have radically changed the way the NHL hands out suspensions – how many players could use “I was concussed!” as an excuse for any number of retaliations? So Bettman was methodical here, dismissing this case’s argument on its own merits. At least to his standards.
So Bettman upheld the 20-game suspension, but didn’t add to it, which he could have. Watch him circle Wideman’s jugular like a cobra here, but deciding not to strike:
OK, so which Calgary Flames player narc’d on Wideman to the NHL with that text message? Because according to Elliotte Friedman, they used a subpoena*. Bettman is savage.
UPDATE: On that "subpoena," Friedman explains: