Thursday, February 4, 2016

The NHL Gets it Right: Wideman Gets 20 Games

The NHL's decision to suspend Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman for 20 games without pay for striking an official during a game on January 27th was the right move. One needs only to glance at the NHL rulebook to see that Wideman's punishment fits the crime.

In case you missed the incident, we'll catch you up: Wideman deliberately hit linesman Don Henderson. Henderson, a 47-year-old who was wearing no padding other than his helmet, was struck from behind and knocked to the ice by Wideman, who later claimed "I looked up and I saw him and I couldn't avoid it." But the video shows that Wideman clearly did it on purpose (as in: he saw Henderson while skating up the wall, did a slight stutter-step that many are trying to interpret as innocence, then LEVELED HIM). So, that's it--end of story, right?

Note: According to Chris Peters of CBS Sports, Henderson suffered a concussion and has not resumed skating from the play.

Well, not quite. The Flames released a statement in support of Wideman (by all accounts a good guy who has never done anything like this in his life) after the NHL released its decision. That much was fine, but the language that the Flames used in the statement only makes them look callous and out of touch. "We disagree with the severity of today’s suspension ruling and maintain that Dennis’ collision with the linesman was unintentional and accidental. 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.”

Unintentional and accidental? Just stop. Seriously. Just stop. Wideman made a mistake, and he has to pay for it. In time, he'll be forgiven, even if he wants to keep saying that it was an accident.

What's strange about this case, and the rumblings and multivaried opinions on social media, is that many people seem to truly believe that Wideman's hit was accidental. There should cease to be debate in that regard. JUST. WATCH. THE VIDEO.

Because of the (ceaseless) debate, and because of the severity of the suspension and related fine, this is not over. Thing are getting a tad more complicated. The NHLPA is appealing the case, hoping for a reduction, and reportedly Wideman is now saying that he was "woozy" before he hit Henderson, due to the check he received from Miikka Salomaki before the play stoppage. But Wideman told nobody on his bench that he felt woozy and he didn't leave the game, so how is it relevant in any way?

There are some who seem to think the NHL is under pressure to cow to the NHL Officials Union, but to me it seems cut-and-dry. The rule is very clear on the number of games a player shall receive for a hit like this. Was it a malicious blow? Not really. Wideman, in his defense, was *sort of* trying to get out of the way. It was clear that he was in a very bad mood about being drilled in the corner and he let his temper get the best of him. You don't do that to officials. They are older. They wear no protection. They have it hard enough already. YOU JUST DON'T DO IT.

Wideman got what the rules call for. He's not an evil man by any means. He should just own up, admit that he completely screwed up, and beg for forgiveness. Even if he doesn't he'll be forgiven.

And next time he and the rest of the NHL will think twice about laying a hit on an official.