Dennis Wideman apologized.
The Calgary Flames defenceman said he didn’t see linesman Don Henderson standing there, despite skating more than 100 feet in Henderson’s direction on his path to the bench, before knocking Henderson to the ice on Wednesday night with his arms extended.
Wideman called the contact “completely unintentional.” There was no penalty called on the play.
Even if it was unintentional, Wideman’s hit may result in a 10-game suspension for physical abuse of officials according to Rule 40 (Physical Abuse of Officials) in the NHL’s rulebook.
Wideman appeared to be woozy after a hard check in the corner from Nashville Predators forward Miikka Salomaki. On his way to the Flames’ bench, Wideman made contact with Henderson, who had his back to the defenceman.
A small stutter in Wideman’s skates at the last second indicated he might not have seen Henderson.
“I took a pretty hard hit down in the corner and had some pretty good pain in my shoulder and my neck and I was just trying to get off the ice,” Wideman told reporters after the game. “I was kind of keeled over and at the last second, I looked up and I saw him and I couldn't avoid it.”
The question is: does Wideman’s hit rise to the level of a suspension for physical abuse of an official? If so, the suspension will not be a short one. That’s because the NHL rulebook does not provide a lot of wiggle room. The league takes the protection of officials very seriously.
According to Rule 40, the NHL has the option to suspend Wideman for a minimum of 10 or 20 games, but not fewer than 10. The difference between the two suspensions is “intent to injure.”
A 20-game ban shall be handed down automatically for a “Category I” violation when “any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure,” according to the rulebook.
For the purpose of that rule, “intent to injure” shall mean “any physical force which a player who or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury.”
The lesser penalty, a minimum 10-game “Category II” suspension, is for “any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding Category I), which physical enforce is applied without intent to injure.”
New York Rangers forward Dan Carcillo is the only player suspended for physical abuse of an official in the last six seasons. He was handed a 10-game ban on May 23, 2014 for using physical force against a linesman while being escorted to the penalty box during a playoff game.
Carcillo’s suspension was appealed and later reduced to six games. Ten other players have been suspended under the same Rule 40 since 2000, though Chicago Blackhawks’ centre Tom Lysiak is one of the few to be suspended for 20 games (Oct. 31, 1983).
In this case, Wideman may be saved by the fact that the officials in Calgary did not call a game misconduct penalty on the play. That may have only happened, though, because the other three officials on the ice did not see the contact with Henderson since the hit occurred behind the play.
According to Rule 40, Tuesday night’s referees shall - in consultation with the linesmen - “decide the category of the offence,” but that is seemingly only when a misconduct penalty is imposed.
The process is for the officials to then make a verbal report to director of hockey operations Colin Campbell and “advise of the category and the offence,” and the NHLPA and the player and club involved “shall be notified of the decision of the referees on the morning following the game.” Then, the league shall hold a conference call with the NHLPA to review the referee’s decision, with the NHL refraining from public comment on the referee’s application until that call is complete. The rulebook also allows for officials to request for commissioner review.
Given that the NHL has now entered the All-Star break and the Flames do not resume play until next Wednesday, the league’s hockey operations department is not expected to be in any rush to make a judgment on the situation. However, the league is reviewing the play.
Wideman, 32, said he apologized to Henderson during the next stoppage in play. He is a veteran of 755 NHL games.
“Throughout my career, and I’ve been around for a few years, I think I’ve treated every official with the utmost respect and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref or anything like that,” Wideman told reporters. “I’d be surprised, but if [discipline] happens, all I can do is tell my side and tell what happened and hope for the best. In my view it was obviously unintentional.”
Frank Seravalli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.