NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension for cross-checking a linesman from behind today, a widely expected ruling that Wideman will now appeal to a neutral arbitrator. Wideman’s primary defense, that he was concussed shortly before hitting referee Don Henderson—Wideman was indeed diagnosed with a concussion in the days after his hit—put the NHL in a very uncomfortable position.
Bettman’s 22-page decision explains why he didn’t believe the concussion explanation. Neither of the medical experts the NHLPA presented physically examined Wideman in-person, and only spoke with him days later. Wideman also didn’t ask to leave the game, nor say anything about a concussion afterwards. In Bettman’s opinion, the medical experts were only able to explain what Wideman told them he was feeling at the time, not whether he was actually concussed and confused.
As Barry explained a couple of weeks ago, there can be no definitive answer as to what Wideman was feeling at the time. But given that the NHL is facing a class action concussion lawsuit, the league is strongly incentivized to slough off the burden of concussion reporting from itself and its teams onto the players, and to insist that league rules and the CBA forced them to suspend Wideman for a quarter of the season.
Besides Bettman’s handling of the concussion defense, hockey writers noticed something else interesting in his ruling (emphasis mine):
On the other hand, I have the authority to impose a more substantial suspension, and I amtroubled by Mr. Wideman’s total failure to accept any responsibility for his actions. Indeed, although hemade much at the hearing about the apologies he had already made to Mr. Henderson, the sincerity ofthose 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 reasonI’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.”
The NHL’s ability to obtain Wideman’s text messages—even after his original disciplinary hearing with NHL VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell—stands in stark contrast to the NFL’s investigation into Tom Brady role in deflating footballs. On the advice of his agent, Brady refused to give the NFL access to his phone, and the league had no mechanism to compel him to.
It is almost as if the NHL has subpoena power, but not quite. As Elliotte Friedman explained, “Because this is an arbitration hearing — basically a private court — neither side can say no to this kind of a request provided information isn’t privileged, both sides have to provide written communications from witnesses.” He went on to write that the NHL also received the text of referee Don Henderson.
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