Dennis Wideman’s disciplinary hearing begins at 2:30 today, and I’m genuinely curious what sort of suspension the NHL will hand down. The video shows what happened—Wideman cross-checking a linesman, landing him in the hospital overnight for observation—but it doesn’t show why. And there doesn’t seem to be any in-between: he either meant to do it, or he didn’t. So how do you punish that?
Wideman’s immediate comments after that game were that he had his head down, and didn’t see linesman Don Henderson until it was too late.
He will likely present a different explanation at today’s hearing, overseen by Colin Campbell (because it’s not a player safety issue). According to Elliotte Friedman, Wideman is expected to say he was “woozy” or “foggy” from a hit immediately preceding the check—that is, he was concussed and he didn’t know what he’s doing.
That was a lot of people’s first guess, if only because what Wideman did wasn’t the action of someone thinking clearly. (And it was remarkably out of character for Wideman.) That would raise the issue of why Wideman continued to play in the game—or why Calgary allowed him to keep playing—but at least it’s an issue on terms the NHL’s dealt with before.
Seemingly the only other option here is that Wideman did it on purpose, and I can’t for the life of me imagine why. Could something as simple as a missed call, either earlier in the game or the one that may have concussed him, cause him to snap like that? Again, by all accounts, it’d be wildly out of character.
Friedman’s column goes into some of the undercurrents surrounding the NHL’s decision, the biggest one being pressure from the referees’ union to come down hard. One take says anything less than double-digit games would be unacceptable to the officials. The NHL, too, wants to protect its referees: no matter the motive, you can’t touch them like Wideman did. Even if he’s not guilty of anything but carelessness or confusion, he could still be made an example of.
It’s tricky. If Wideman did it accidentally, I don’t know how any suspension is justified. If Wideman did it maliciously, it’s hard to think of a suspension too harsh. But with no way to know one way or the other, what verdict could possibly be fair?