The NHL has dismissed James Oldham, the neutral arbitrator in the Dennis Wideman case, according to a report from Sports Business Daily who confirmed the report with Oldham himself.
Wideman was suspended 20 games by the league for intentionally hitting linesman Don Henderson back in January. After an appeal to commissioner Gary Bettman, who upheld the suspension, Wideman and the NHLPA brought the case before a neutral arbitrator. Oldham determined that there wasn’t intent in the hit and reduced Wideman’s suspension to 10 games, even though Wideman had already served 19 of those 20 games. He was able to recoup salary in the ruling.
The NHL did not like Oldham’s ruling and is suing the NHLPA to reinstate the 20-game suspension. They issued a statement in June saying that they believe Oldham “exceeded his contractual authority” in the ruling.
It’s an example of how much the leagues (see: the NFL) covet the power to make these rulings on their own without interference, as well as the power of the official’s union, who also disagreed with the reduced suspension given to Wideman.
The ability to fire a neutral arbitrator for not ruling in your favor is also an interesting twist of neutrality should the reasons for the dismissal be as they appear on the surface. The NHL has not issued a statement, so it is not currently clear if there are other factors involved. We reached out to the NHL for comment and had not received a reply at the time of publication.
Despite the odd perception of how neutrality works in this situation, the CBA gives both the NHL and the NHLPA the right to fire arbitrators on July 1, according to Sports Business Daily. The position was formed in 2013, when the current CBA was signed, giving players the right to take conflicts to this stage. Oldham, a law professor at Georgetown, has been the arbitrator since 2013. The Wideman case was the only case he ruled on during his tenure.
Dustin Nelson is the News Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s a contributor to Hockey Prospectus, Hockey Wilderness, and writes a column for Rotowire. He’s also written for Gone Puck Wild, Wild Xtra, InDigest, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, Tiny Mix Tapes, Prefix Magazine & other publications. Have a tip? Email him at dlukenelson[at]gmail[dot]com.