Faceoff: The Dennis Wideman debacle comes to an end... maybe
Every great farce needs a fitting ending. The NHL may have finally found theirs when it comes to the Dennis Wideman case.
On Friday, neutral arbitrator James C. Oldham finally delivered his ruling on Wideman's appeal, cutting the 20-game ban that Gary Bettman had slapped on the Flames' defenceman in half. The decision marked the apparent (we'll get to that) end of an ongoing saga that started when Wideman launched himself at linesman Don Henderson, and had already included an initial suspension and an appeal to Bettman, both of which were considered overkill by many.
Of course, this being the NHL, nothing can ever be that simple. There was the small matter of timing—Oldham took two weeks to deliver his ruling, by which point Wideman had already missed 19 games. The reduced suspension will return a good chunk of money to Wideman's pocket, but he can't get those games back.
There's also the ongoing issue of the concussion that Wideman and the Flames say he suffered in the moments before the incident, one that Oldham agreed had rendered him unable to fully form intent. We've yet to learn what consequences, if any, the Flames will face for ignoring the league-mandated spotter's call for Wideman to leave the game. And we don't yet know whether the Wideman case will establish a precedent for players who lash out after taking a big hit. That sort of play happens more often than you think—Bobby Farnham's four-game suspension was a recent example, as was the $5,000 fine levied at Brad Marchand—and you can bet that we'll start hearing more of the "I had my bell rung" defence in the future.
It gets worse. Over the weekend, we also learned that Henderson will miss the remainder of the season after reportedly suffering a concussion of his own on the play. The Flames were widely ripped for allowing Wideman to finish the game, as they should have been. But shouldn't we be directing the same criticism to the NHL? Officials aren't players; they don't go the bench between shifts, and they don't have trainers on hand to monitor their health during games. But surely there needs to be some sort of protocol in place to prevent a referee or linesman from finishing a game despite being concussed badly enough to cause them to miss the rest of the season.
We haven't even mentioned the confusion around Wideman's text messages, which now somehow involves Gregory Campbell. That would be the same Campbell whose father, Colin, is the league official who delivered the initial 20-game ruling. The two aren't teammates and never have been, so it certainly seems odd that Wideman was reaching out to Campbell in the incident's aftermath.
This situation is getting even weirder. —Photo by Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
But at least the whole thing is mercifully over. Unless, of course, it isn't. While Oldham's decision marks the end of the appeals process, the NHL could potentially try to continue the case in court, and has already announced that it will review its options to "determine what next steps may be appropriate."
It's hard to imagine what the league could hope to gain by dragging this whole mess on even further. Then again, anything approaching logic or common sense seems to have gone out the window the moment Wideman started his fateful skate toward Henderson. With a story this ridiculous, a bonus chapter or two of silliness would hardly feel out of place.
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