CALGARY — Even if Dennis Wideman was concussed, the NHL says the Calgary Flames defenceman deserves his 20-game suspension for knocking down an official.
Wideman had not been fined or suspended in his 755 games in the NHL. The first of his career handed down Wednesday were lengthy and expensive.
Wideman is eligible to return to the lineup March 14. The 32-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., will also forfeit US$564,516 in salary to the players’ emergency assistance fund.
The NHL Players’ Association appealed the suspension and the Flames disagreed with its severity.
“From our point of view, it’s a little harsh obviously. Well, a lot harsh from our point of view,” Flames captain Mark Giordano. “You talk to Wides and he’s not that type of guy.”
During the second period of the Flames’ 2-1 loss to Nashville on Jan. 27, Wideman was checked hard into the boards by Predators winger Miikka Salomaki.
Wideman banged his stick on the ice as he skated towards the players’ benches and then shoved his stick into the back of linesman Don Henderson. The linesman went down in front of the Predators’ bench, but got to his feet and was able to finish the game.
Wideman’s post-game explanation was he was in pain and was trying to get off the ice, adding that he couldn’t avoid Henderson.
“Throughout my career and I’ve been around for a few years, I think I’ve treated every official with the utmost respect and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref or anything like that,” Wideman said.
No penalty was called on the play. Wideman apologized to Henderson after the incident, but the NHL suspended him indefinitely the following day. Wideman attended a hearing with the league Tuesday in Toronto.
“Instead of stopping and otherwise taking steps to avoid the collision, Wideman raises his stick and proceeds to aggressively cross-check a vulnerable and unsuspecting Henderson in the upper back, causing the linesman to fall to the ice,” the NHL said Wednesday in its video explanation of the suspension.
“Wideman is hit hard by the Salamaki check and it is accepted for the purposes of this decision that he was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion. That fact, even accepted as true, cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.
“Although he appears to get up slowly from being checked, Wideman skates steadily and purposefully to his bench, taking a half-dozen strides to get there. Wideman also demonstrates his continued awareness of his circumstances and surroundings when upon approaching the Calgary blue-line, he raises his stick and then taps it on the ice to alert his teammates he is coming off for a line change.
“By his own admission, Wideman repeatedly refused immediate medical attention and remained in the game.
“But even assuming the player’s claim that he was disoriented as a result of the Salamaki check, Wideman still cannot be excused from the nature and severity of the offence he committed on the ice. He delivered a forceful blow that was no accident.”
Flames head coach Bob Hartley would not comment after Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on whether Wideman was concussed or not. He instead referred to a statement from hockey operations president Brian Burke earlier in the day.
Burke maintained Wideman’s 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,” Burke said in the statement.
“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.”
The NHL rulebook states “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 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.”
The Players’ Association also contends Wideman did not intend to make contact with Henderson.
“Dennis has played in 11 NHL seasons and almost 800 games without incident,” the players’ union said in a statement. “The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman.”
The Flames (22-24-3) were six points out of a playoff berth in the Pacific Division and nine back of a conference wild-card berth Wednesday.
Wideman has two goals and 17 assists and is minus-9 in 48 games this season. The six-foot, 202-pound defenceman has averaged 21 minutes per game this season and ranks third on the team in blocked shots with 74.