The immediate reaction to the news that Calgary Flames defender Dennis Wideman had been suspended for 20 games by the National Hockey League’s Hockey Operations Department was “So, he’s going to appeal, right?”
But there isn’t a whole lot of information readily available about the appeals process when it comes to suspensions. So we did some digging and read some stuff, and here’s more or less what we found.
The appeals process is governed by Section 18 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“Supplemental Discipline”). Specifically, appeals are governed by Subsections 18.12 and 18.13.
Under 18.12, since Wideman’s suspension is in excess of six games, Gary Bettman automatically has to grant him an in-person hearing. (The CBA only specifies that the hearing be conducted in an “expedited manner,” so we’ll probably hear about scheduling quite soon.)
The Commissioner shall have the authority to consider any evidence relating to
the incident even if such evidence was not available at the time of the initial Supplementary
Discipline for On-Ice Conduct decision. Except in cases involving a suspension of six (6) or
more NHL Games which shall be subject to an appeal pursuant to Section 18.13 below, the
decision of the Commissioner in an appeal shall be final and binding in all respects and not
subject to review. For purposes of Section 18.13 below, the Commissioner’s decision shall
represent the complete and final decision of the League regarding whether the Player’s conduct
violated League Playing Rules, as well as the length of the suspension imposed on the Player.
Basically, Bettman can bring in as much information as he wants, and it doesn’t matter if it’s new information since the initial hearing with Colin Campbell. It’s essentially asking the same body that suspended Wideman (the NHL) to reassess its initial ruling, on the grounds that either the player’s conduct didn’t violate League Playing Rules; or, if it did, the length of the suspension was too harsh.
Since the explanation from Hockey Operations is anchored on Rule 40 of the NHL Rulebook – Abuse of Officials – the appeal will be based upon interpretation of that specific rule and the circumstances surrounding Wideman’s collision with Don Henderson last week.
(The NHL’s suspension explanation video, linked here, is almost entirely based upon Rule 40 interpretation.)
Bettman’s heard two appeals in recent years. Both were during the 2013-14 season: Patrick Katela (for a check to the head) and Shawn Thornton (for going after Brooks Orpik after he had already fallen to the ice). Both suspensions were upheld. I would expect that unless Bettman feels the suspension is way off base, he’ll stick with the recommendations made by his people.
If Wideman (or the NHLPA) feel that the suspension length levied by the Commissioner is still too harsh, within a week of his decision they can file to have the suspension re-assessed by James Oldham, the Neutral Discipline Arbitrator.
The NDA shall hold an in-person hearing and shall determine whether the final
decision of the League regarding whether the Player’s conduct violated the League Playing Rules
and whether the length of the suspension imposed were supported by substantial evidence. The
NDA shall issue an opinion and award as soon as practicable. The NDA shall have the authority
to consider any evidence relating to the incident even if such evidence was not available at the
time of the initial Supplementary Discipline for On-Ice Conduct decision or at the time of the
Commissioner’s decision in connection with the appeal. The NDA shall have full remedial
authority in respect of the matter should he/she determine that the Commissioner’s decision was
not supported by substantial evidence. The NDA’s decision shall be final and binding in all
respects and not subject to review.
(Again, emphasis added.) The Neutral Discipline Arbitrator is the last word.
Extensive Googling didn’t reveal an instance when the Neutral Discipline Arbitrator has been used in the NHL, so it’s difficult to predict how things will be interpreted if it gets that far.