Here are a few of the more intriguing aspects of commissioner Gary Bettman’s decision to uphold Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson:
The NHL had access to Wideman’s text messages
This is the development that’s getting the most play right now, especially on social media.
In his ruling, Bettman writes “although [Wideman] made much at the hearing about the apologies he had already made to Mr. Henderson, the sincerity of those apologies rings somewhat hollow given the text message he sent to a teammate on February 2 —- after the conclusion of the hearing before Mr. Campbell —- that “[t]he only problem and the only reason I’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.”
The NHL cast doubt on whether Wideman was actually concussed or not
In Bettman’s cross-examination of neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Comper — who the NHLPA used to analyze/interview Wideman, and later called to testify as an expert in clinical neuropsychology — the following occurred:
Q. And you would agree with me that Mr. Wideman certainly had, at least potentially, the motive to exaggerate his symptoms in order to obtain a report that said he wasn’t responsible for his actions, that’s at least a possibility, isn’t it?
A. It’s a possibility.
Q And you didn’t discuss that in your report, did you?
The league also took issue with the fact that neither Comper nor Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher — also brought in by the NHLPA — physically evaluated Wideman. Both spoke with the Calgary defenseman via FaceTime, and took his word for how he felt at the time.
The league had also previously seemed skeptical of Wideman’s concussion.
“It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that [Wideman] was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion,” the NHL explained at the time of the original 20-game suspension ruling. “However, that fact even accepted as true, cannot excuse Wideman’s subsequent actions.
“First, 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 blueline, he raises his stick and taps it on the ice to alert his teammates that he’s coming off for a line change.”
The league also made mention of the fact Wideman refused medical attention while on the bench, and remained in the game.
The league didn’t want a “concussion defense precedent” to be set
This ties into the above. Bettman writes:
In short, the record as a whole does not support the contention that Mr. Wideman’s actions were the result of confusion, a failure of “impulse control” or a loss of balance.
Moreover, to find on a record such as this one that the Player was not responsible for the consequences of his actions would set a precedent that could be easily manipulated in the future in a way that would make the game more dangerous for all participants, including players.
The thought here, obviously, is that a Pandora’s Box could be opened in which players would excuse their on-ice behavior — and transgressions — because they’d just been shaken up, with that influencing their decision-making.
The NHLPA didn’t asked for a reduced suspension. It asked for no suspension at all.
Although the NHLPA acknowledged that I have the authority to reduce the suspension imposed by Mr. Campbell, the Union did not actually request a reduced suspension, maintaining at all times that no suspension is warranted.
This is an interesting development, if only because the union has successfully reduced suspensions in the past — in 2012, the PA got Raffi Torres’ 25-game suspension reduced to 21. Now, the circumstances are different in the Wideman case, because asking for a reduction rather than no suspension could be seen as an admission of guilt.
However, it’s worth noting that had the suspension been reduced, Wideman could’ve been back in action sooner. He’s already sat out seven games.