NHL Sues NHLPA Over Dennis Wideman Suspension Arbitration

The Dennis Wideman saga, once thought to have finally, awkwardly concluded, is back. According to Darren Heitner, the NHL has file suit against the NHLPA, requesting that the 10-game reduction of Wideman’s suspension be vacated.

The Saga Up to Now

On January 27, Wideman bulldozed linesman Don Henderson. The team contends that Wideman had a concussion from the hit he suffered immediately before this incident and didn’t know what he was doing. On the hit, Henderson suffered a concussion and has not been able to return to work. The reported filing from the league says in the incident, Wideman “applied his own brand of industrial justice.”

The league suspended Wideman for 20 games. Wideman and the NHLPA appealed the rule. The first appeal in this process moves the case to the commissioner’s desk. Gary Bettman reviewed the situation and upheld Wideman’s suspension.

In his ruling, Bettman said that he was “troubled by Mr. Wideman’s total failure to accept any responsibility for his actions.”

Wideman and the NHLPA appealed again. This was the final appeal available to Wideman under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and the first time a player had exercised this right under the current CBA. In the appeal, an independent arbitrator ruled in Wideman’s favor, reducing his suspension from 20 games to 10 games.

At that point, Wideman had already missed 19 games.

A key point here was Wideman’s intention. If he intentionally injured Henderson, 20 games is the minimum suspension under rule 40.2. However, if it was not intentional, the minimum suspension is 10 games under rule 40.3.

The arbitrator determined that Bettman’s conclusion of intentionality didn’t have enough support. The arbitrator wrote, “in my opinion, that conclusion is not substantially supported by the totality of the evidence presented to me at the NDA hearing. In my judgment, the proper penalty should have been that specified in League Rule 40.3. Taking into account Wideman’s eleven years of discipline-free performance as a professional hockey player, there is no occasion to go beyond the ten game minimum specified in Rule 40.3.”

What’s Next

The league responded to the arbitrator’s ruling by saying, “We strenuously disagree with the Arbitrator’s ruling and are reviewing the Opinion in detail to determine what next steps may be appropriate.”

And that’s how we get to this new suit. The league alleges that the arbitrator has stepped outside the bounds of what was permissible under the CBA. His decision was limited to whether or not Bettman’s appeal decision was “supported by substantial evidence,” according to the complaint. The NHL says that the arbitrator’s decision to re-review the evidence and come to a fresh conclusion is outside the purview of the arbitrator based on the rules set out in the CBA.

Should the NHL win the suit, the NHLPA would need to give the NHL the equivalent of 10 games of Wideman’s salary. Wideman had recovered that salary after the arbitrator’s decision, even though he couldn’t get those nine games he’d missed above the 10-game suspension back. If the NHL loses, nothing changes. Either way, Wideman doesn’t stand to sit out any additional games.