If you’re a hockey fan odds are good you’ve already heard of the incident Wednesday night in Calgary where former Worcester IceCats and Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman crosschecked linesman Don Henderson as Wideman was heading toward the Flames bench after being checked by Nashville Predators Miikka Salomaki. Wideman has been suspended indefinitely by the NHL, and depending how the NHL applies the rules could face a 20 game suspension.
In case you haven’t seen the video, or want to take another look at it, here it is:
As one would expect, there are more than a handful of articles posted calling for the NHL to throw the book at Wideman for his conduct. As I usually do I ignore the opinions of writers that don’t know the difference between a linesman and a referee, but that still leaves a lot of writers calling for Wideman’s head, and to be honest some real good ones have posted stories calling for the maximum suspension.
And, as a rule, I think players whose intention is to harm on-field officials should face the maximum penalties under the rules. But I think in this case the NHL should look at a mitigating factor: Wideman might not have known what he was doing at the time.
Now I’m not saying Wideman should go unpunished. I’m saying that in the rules there is a lesser offense for making contact with an official without intending to cause them harm. Looking at the video it shows Wideman is obviously dazed from being checked into the boards and probably has no idea what he’s doing, and is heading to the bench on pure instinct.
Many Worcester Sharks fans remember a similar situation involving Crazed Rats winger Dan DaSilva, where after a huge open ice hit well after the whistle DaSilva slowly got back to his feet, skated over to a Bridgeport Sound Tigers forward, and crosschecked him in the face thinking that was the player that had laid him out. Bridgeport enforcer Justin Johnson was on the ice at the time and went directly to DaSilva to challenge him, but once he got there and had grappled with DaSilva suddenly let him go as the officials gathered around. Johnson saw that DaSilva was out on his feet and did the right thing by backing away. DaSilva was out a few days with concussion-like symptoms.
The NHL has a delicate line to follow here. Showing leniency to a player that injured a linesman could potentially cause issues with its officials, but on the other hand the NHL would suffer from another PR mess if it just blindly suspended Wideman the maximum if it turns out he was indeed having issues from the hit he took. One small checkmark in Wideman’s favor is this is something totally uncharacteristic for him.
“I took a pretty good hit down in the corner and had some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck,” Wideman said after the game to interviewers. “I was just trying to get off the ice and kind of keeled over. At the last second, I looked up and saw [Henderson] and couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go and how to get out of the way. I’ve been around for a few years, and I think I’ve treated every official with the utmost respect, and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref. It was completely unintentional, and I already apologized to him.”
To me saying “I’m sorry” shouldn’t mitigate someone’s punishment for any action that results in harm to a player or official. What should only be taken into account is what was going through a player’s mind when such an incident takes place. And there are some questions here as to what Wideman’s “abilities” were at the moment of the incident.
NHL rule 40.2 calls for a 20 game suspension if a player intends to injure an official, and rule 40.3 calls for an automatic 10 game suspension for players that apply physical force to an official without intent to injure if such action was deliberate. There is also a category that allows for a three game suspension, rule 40.4, but like rules 40.2 and 40.3 the specifics of the rule don’t match what truly happened.
I think the NHL should go to something closer to rule 40.3 and give Wideman a suspension in the 8-10 game range. If the NHL goes with a suspension in that range the folks yelling for his head will be furious Wideman didn’t get the full 20 games, and it will upset those saying he should get off with virtually no punishment because he was not thinking clearly.
And when you anger people on both sides of an issue, you’ve probably got it right.