NHLPA, Flames slam Wideman suspension as appeal process begins

The NHL Players’ Association said it “strongly” disagreed with the NHL’s decision to suspend Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman 20 games for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson in a game last week.

The NHL announced the ruling early Wednesday and the NHLPA announced the appeal in the afternoon.  Since this was not a player safety issue, the hockey operations department, led by Colin Campbell, presided over the Wideman decision.

“We strongly disagree with the League’s decision to suspend Dennis Wideman,” the Players’ Association said in a statement. “Dennis has played in 11 NHL seasons and almost 800 games without incident. The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman. An appeal has been filed on the player’s behalf.”

The appeal will go to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. If the suspension is still for six-or-more games after Bettman makes his decision, the appeal can go further to an arbitrator. Wideman reportedly cannot play during the appeal process, so there is belief it will be expedited.

The Flames also didn't approve of the suspension and released a statement by team president Brian Burke.

“We were informed earlier today that our player, Dennis Wideman, was suspended for contact with an official in last Wednesday’s game against Nashville. We disagree with the severity of today’s suspension ruling and maintain that Dennis’ collision with the linesman was unintentional and accidental," Burke said. "We agree that our officials’ safety and well-being is of extreme importance in order to allow them to perform their duties. They perform an invaluable but underappreciated role in our game. We support sanctions against players who make deliberate contact with any official. However, unintentional and accidental contact does occur at times in our game. We will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

Both the Flames and the NHLPA defended Wideman in a Tuesday hearing.

The play happened on Jan. 27 against the Nashville Predators. Wideman was hit by Nashville forward Miikka Salomaki into the boards in his own zone, and then ran into Henderson on his way to the bench.

Part of Wideman’s defense was reportedly that he was “woozy” after the hit.

The NHL released a video explaining the Wideman suspension. The league noted that Wideman suffered a concussion, which was later diagnosed, on the Salomaki play, but showed awareness of his surroundings by raising his stick and looking for a line change.

The league also said Wideman refused immediate medical attention for the head injury.

Also, even though Wideman claimed he was disoriented, the league said he "cannot be excused of the nature and severity of the offense he committed on the ice. It is obvious from the video that Wideman did not merely bump into or collide with the linesman. He delivered a forceful blow that was no accident. Wideman must remain accountable for his own actions."

The NHL cited the following rule for Wideman's suspension:

40.2  Automatic Suspension – Category I - Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games. (For the purpose of the rule, “intent to injure” shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury.)

Wideman said he, “just saw (Henderson) at the last second. “I was going to try to go (along) the boards, and he kind of moved towards the boards a little bit. I was kind of stuck in the trolley tracks there. It was an accident.”

Wideman also said the play was “not intentional” and he would “never try to hurt a linesman or a ref or anything like that.”

Because of the 20-game suspension, Wideman will forfeit $564,516 from his $5.25 million paycheck for this year. The 32-year-old Wideman has 19 points in 48 games played this season. He has never been fined or suspended in his NHL career.

There is belief the NHL suspended Wideman 20 games in part to defend their on-ice officials. 

"Physical abuse of an official is one of the most serious offenses an NHL player can commit," said the league in the video.

In 2008, then Columbus Blue Jackets forward Mike Peca was suspended 10 games for grabbing the arm of a linesman. This was later reduced to five games after an appeal was heard by Bettman.

The Flames host the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!