What we know about the appeals process

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.

(Emphasis added.)

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.

  • Southern_Point

    Is there anyway this incident could be implicated in the class action lawsuit filed against the NHL? IF Wideman was concussed and IF the spotter called down to the bench, and that call was ultimately ignored than this incident could be seen as pointing to not only league wide negligence with regards to concussions, but also the league’s desire to push the consequences on to the players without doing their due diligence despite full well knowing the risks.

      • McRib

        I have a couple friends who have reffed as high as the Midget AAA/Jr. A level, every single one of them says his positioning was absolutely terrible on the Wideman play. He just causally skated backwards without looking between the two benches during a change…. Throw in a pivot once and a while, or a shoulder check. This linesman clearly assumes players are going to get out of his way. Not blaming him for getting injured, but he isn’t completely innocent in all of this, he has more of a history of getting in players way then Wideman does for getting suspended. Hahah. Its like comparing an aggressive driver to a defensive driver. It wasn’t the linesman fault, but could he have prevented the play from happening himself with better positioning, absolutely!!! A great linesman would absolutely not have put himself in this situation. My Dad has wrote off three cars in the last three years, all three have been the other persons fault…. Doesn’t mean they are all a coincidence though!!!

        • McRib

          I could not agree more.It’s funny how none of the talking heads have even touched on this.Henderson ran into Wideman just as much as Wideman ran into Henderson.Both were masses in motion.Henderson looked like he was going to give the boardside lane to Wides only to c-cut right back into the lane. Absolutely no situational awareness on Hendersons part….like you said,he never looked back once as he skated backwards a full 15 feet.

          The cross ice cam view is the best one. You see Henderson’s head snap back onto Widemans shoulder as their bodies came together…whiplash reaction effect for both…Wides arms shoot out as a result of the collision as he was going forward.

          I’m not saying I blame Henderson for the injury either….it was just a perfect storm for an optically skewed accident.

          Glad you wrote your post…I thought I was taking crazy pills.

    • Southern_Point

      Not really that hit was at full speed, happened within the course of play and the linesman was clearly at fault there. Wideman’s hit was behind the play, from behind, and clearly not the linesman’s fault.

      The only similarity is the movement of his hands, which while similar, isn’t some sort of smoking gun in terms of culpability.

  • Parallex

    Seems silly to appeal to Bettman… it’s the same body that’s suspending the player so why bother? Ought to proceed directly to the NDA.

    Also, in general, shouldn’t a player be able to play while an appeal is ongoing? I mean what if the team were to lose a game while he was suspended but pending appeal and the suspension was overturned? The absence of a player could be a contributing factor to the loss, in that sense it seems unfair to the team to deny the use of a player during the appeal process.

  • Bob Cobb

    If Gary Bettman has any balls or intestinal fortitude he’ll uphold the suspension.

    I’m not saying that cause it’s a Flames player either, makes no difference if its Wideman, Eric Gryba from the Oilers or anyone else, it looked intentional and of course Wideman is going to say it wasn’t, only a fool would admit to targeting a ref in a incident like this.

    Wideman should take the suspension like a man, do his time and come back and try to help the Flames make the playoffs.

  • Parallex

    @Jeff

    Also notice the player’s hands shoot up as soon as he realizes the imminent collision…exactly like Wideman’s situation.

    I still can’t understand how the term “crosscheck” is being used so flippantly.There was no crosscheck…Wideman’s hands are about a foot apart and the stick blade is high…like 2 o’clock high….but I digress

    Anyways..I hope Wideman sticks it to them and get’s the suspension lifted.

  • McRib

    Why was Wideman on the ice today? Returning after what a week of admitting to receiving a Concussion. Man the Flames continue to handle this poorly. I have had multiple Concussions and speaking from history clearly believe Wideman had one on the play, but what the hell is he doing back on the ice so early. Way to be cautious about post concussion symptoms Calgary.

  • beloch

    The important question is this: Will Wideman’s suspension actually protect refs?

    It won’t. Not from what actually happened in this case at any rate. Wideman was concussed, disoriented, in pain, and struggling to reach the bench. Henderson got in his way. Wideman lashed out. This is what pain, anger, and head trauma causes people to do at least some of the time. Not every person reacts the same way and not every player in Wideman’s situation would have hit Henderson, but many would, and will. If you selected fifty of the league’s cleanest players and put them in the exact same situation, Henderson is going to get creamed at least some of the time. This suspension won’t change that.

    On the other hand, you definitely do need to suspend any player who hits a ref like that. If you don’t, you run the risk of injured players who are in control of themselves taking out their frustrations on officials physically because they think they have got a free pass.

    So, in my book, 20 games is too much. You don’t make an example of a player who was reacting involuntarily under the influence of pain, disorientation, concussion, and anger. Ten games would be enough to ensure that players in similar situations don’t try to get away with bad behaviour.

    How do you actually protect refs? Just like anyone playing hockey in the NHL, they need to be aware of where people are around them. Henderson should have been aware than an obviously injured player was trying to get off the ice right where his butt was drifting. Staff and players sitting on the bench should also be encouraged to let a ref know when he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. If somebody on the Flames’ bench had told Henderson to stay out of the way when Wideman started heading for the bench, this would not have happened.