Breaking down Gary Bettman’s Wideman decision

Earlier today, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman released his verdict in Dennis Wideman’s appeal of his 20 game suspension, with Bettman upholding the initial decision by Colin Campbell. (Wideman and the NHLPA will appeal, the final appeal they can make.) Bettman’s full appeal decision is 23 pages long.

To save you the trouble of all that reading, we decided to read it for you and break out the relevant passages and arguments.

THE RULES THAT WERE BROKEN

After spending a few pages reviewing procedural matters – the date and order of the events in question, and some details about the appeal hearing itself – we get to the first juicy part: the rules.

In providing the justification for the supplemental disciple and the degree to which it was warranted, Bettman cites two rules: “Playing Rule 28” and “Playing Rule 40.” For your benefit, here are the relevant passages.

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Basically, they cite Playing Rule 28 as justification for investigating the incident at all – basically saying “Hey, we know Wideman wasn’t penalized for this play, but we have the ability to investigate any incident that we want.” In addition, they cite Playing Rule 40 to determine the necessity and severity of the supplemental discipline.

Further, Bettman cites Section 18 of the CBA (in regards to Supplemental Discipline) and details four factors that he uses to determine the amount of supplemental discipline the situation calls for.

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Using the Playing Rule 40 provisions as handy (but non-binding) minimums, he notes the concussion suffered by Don Henderson among the reasons that 20 games is appropriate.

THE DEFENSE (AND WHY HE’S NOT BUYING IT)

You may notice that two of the aforementioned four factors probably come into play here: Wideman was concussed, and therefore not responsible for his actions. For what it’s worth, the NHLPA was calling for no suspension whatsoever, arguing that Wideman “did not commit a ‘deliberate’ act of misconduct and therefore did not have the requisite ‘intent to injure’ to justify supplemental discipline.” Effectively, the argument was that Wideman wasn’t in control of his actions and therefore wasn’t responsible for them.

Bettman (and the league) wiggled around the “intent to injure” arguments by leaning on a particular aspect of Playing Rule 40.2: “For the purposes of this rule, ‘intent to injure’ shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury.” In essence, the league’s stance is: “Well, you cross-checked a ref, and since you should have known that could’ve injured the official, that’s enough to give you 20 games.”

(There’s also some stuff here about the NHLPA arguing that contact between players and officials happens all the time, which the NHL shrugged off because the Wideman/Henderson contact didn’t resemble a “hockey play” and occurred away from the flow of play.)

To wriggle around the “should have known” part of that stance, the NHLPA brought in a pair of concussion experts, who interviewed Wideman remotely (via FaceTime) during the All-Star Break while Wideman was vacationing in Arizona. After the interviews, they both provided the NHLPA with reports saying that Wideman’s cognitive functions (and judgment) were impaired, but when they testified before Bettman in the appeal, both of them specifically said that they couldn’t definitively say that was the case – contradicting the reports somewhat.

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Was Wideman concussed? Yes. Could his capacity for decision-making be diminished? Yes. Can they say that it definitely was diminished (and therefore he wasn’t in control of his actions)? No.

In addition, there’s this gem.

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Sure, they couldn’t conclude that Wideman was confused or had diminished capacity because they didn’t examine him right there and right then. But Calgary’s medical trainer did, and that party wasn’t consulted. Whoops.

The report also notes that despite just being hit, Wideman skated to the bench in a direct, upright manner, and slapped his stick on the ice to signal the bench that he was changing, indicating some level of situational awareness.

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And finally, the microphone-dropper of a conclusion:

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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted in a series of tweets that the NHL’s appeal hearing was essentially a private court, so neither side would’ve been able to refuse providing whatever documentation either side wanted for the hearing – including text messages.

IN SHORT

I’m actually kind of blown away how detailed all of this was, and I’ve written on Supreme Court decisions.

Circling back to Playing Rule 40, the NHL is basically saying that if an official is hit outside of a “hockey play” and you don’t sufficiently establish immediately that you were of diminished decision-making capacity because of an injury, you’re probably going to get the book thrown at you. That could result in a longer-term trend of teams being really careful with documenting potential concussions to protect their players (both from supplemental discipline and brain injuries), which might be the point considering the NHL is in the middle of a big lawsuit from ex-players regarding concussion awareness and care.

I’m not a lawyer, but after reading this and seeing how it’s written, it’s going to be pretty tough to definitively rebut in the next round of appeals.

  • The GREAT Walter White

    Bettman can take a long hard suck on my big black d…!

    PS: also; Mr Bettman can you please put something in place so that the Oilers don’t pick top 3 again this year?

    Thank you so much.

    WW

    • R U Kidding Me!

      Let’s get something clear. Homophobia, demeaning of sexual conduct and racism shouldn’t be accepted on these boards.

      Given the proactive conduct of FN mods on previous posts, I’m frankly shocked that WW’s comments have been left intact or that he hasn’t been warned.

      WW can be a troll if he pleases. He can have any opinion that he’d like. But this kind of language wouldn’t be acceptable if he directed it at another commenter. And it shouldn’t be acceptable even if he directs it at Bettman.

    • Lets Get Something Clear

      Let’s get something clear. Homophobia, demeaning of sexual conduct and racism shouldn’t be accepted on these boards.

      Given the proactive conduct of FN mods on previous posts, I’m frankly shocked that WW’s comments have been left intact or that he hasn’t been warned.

      WW can be a troll if he pleases. He can have any opinion that he’d like. But this kind of language wouldn’t be acceptable if he directed it at another commenter. And it shouldn’t be acceptable even if he directs it at Bettman.

  • Parallex

    “I’m not a lawyer, but after reading this and seeing how it’s written, it’s going to be pretty tough to definitively rebut in the next round of appeals.”

    I don’t think you can legitimately say that… this is after all Bettman’s version effectively omitting the NHLPA’s interpretation. If all anyone ever saw was the prosecutions side of the case no one would ever be found not guilty

  • Parallex

    Gerry the merciful!!! Nice threat,how generous not to have extended his suspension.Somewhere Napoleon is turning in his grave.

    Has Wideman ever expressed,for himself, that he was concussed and that is his sole defense??

    Barking up the “concussion” tree is BS of the finest quality and I’m not sure why the Flames would use it (if they are).

    For me…it’s all about “intent”. They can’t prove it.Concussed or not,Wideman tried to avoid Henderson.Period.Mic Drop.

    If their position is the alleged “cross-check”,then explain how a person can form “intent” and follow through with it,mid collision,in less than a second?

    I just hate that little weasel.

    • Lets Get Something Clear

      WHAT IN THE BLUE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

      Wideman did NOT try to avoid the ref. He was looking straight at him. He lifted his stick to a horizontal position and cross-checked the ref in the back.

      Mic drop.

      • fretsey

        In Fact…his stick was vertical at time of impact. Instead of watching the same angle,find the cross ice angle and slow it down,you’ll clearly see Widemans stick blade is almost straight up in the air and not only that,you will see when their bodies collide,Widemans arms are tucked in.watch Henderson appear to c-cut his way away from the boards only to take the inside lane away at the last second,Wideman stutters right,collision,arms go up and out.

        Watch it unfold right before your eyes..it’s all there in the cross ice video angle.

        I’m not really sure how anyone can keep a straight face when calling it a “cross-check” or intentional.

        MIC SLAM

      • There has never been video of Wideman’s face. Nobody know what he was or wasn’t looking at.
        He used his gloves and not his stick upon impact with the ref. Why his hands went up is anyone’s guess.
        His skates turned and twisted as if attempting to change direction before impact. His feet never braced for a hit.

        There probably isn’t a person on this forum that wants to take a knock to the noggin and report to us what kind of state you’re in after. This sort of concussion testing HAS been done and the NHL knows the findings. Concussions occur immediately after most hits. People are limited, lose responsiveness, and have reduction in multiple levels of mental capacity or state of mind IMMEDIATELY following severe impacts.

        The league is seeking to suppress this and also suppress any other findings that the players involved in the “concussion class action” want to bring to the table.

        Anyway… Dennis may in fact have been concussed at the time. Even when following the “protocol”, the body and mind can and often does realign itself and confusion symptoms vanish.

        There is a whole lot more to this situation. Pick up the mic.

  • trox

    Was Wideman concussed? We don’t know. He passed concussion testing. Claiming he was 100% for sure is hearsay.

    League is in no way to blame here. Wideman and the training staff didn’t follow protocol.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    That text message shows how Wideman really feels about the incident. Sorry my ass.

    I would bet my house that was an intentional cross check and not him trying to avoid a collision. I’ve watched the video 20 times and I see nothing but intent to injure.

  • Lets Get Something Clear

    That text just sums it all up. Unclassy as it gets. First the booze problems in the room now the texts. What great character this team has.

  • Lets Get Something Clear

    Personally I think the text does not prove intent. It is highly indicative of a player who is extremely frustrated, and could speak to the temperature in the dressing room… Hopefully not, but it doesn’t pass the sniff test.

  • fretsey

    WIDEMAN AND THE FLAMES ORGANIZATION ARE PROFOUNDLY STUPID

    Excuse # 1: I didn’t see him.

    Excuse # 2: I thought it was another player.

    Excuse # 3: It was ACCIDENTAL. I ACCIDENTALLY lifted my stick to a horizontal position and cross-checked the ref in the back.

    Excuse #4: I was in a zombie-like coma as result of a concussion. I was sleep-walking. I remained in the game because the spotters, the trainers, the coaches and the team doctors are all incompetent. THEY SHOULD ALL BE FIRED!

    Excuse # 5: I am really sorry!

    Excuse # 6: Please ignore excuse # 6. I am not sorry. It is the fault of the stupid refs and the stupid media. MAYBE I AM STILL IN A COMA!

  • Lets Get Something Clear

    AND FURTHERMORE

    What do you think would have happened if Wideman had said this from DAY ONE: I am really sorry, I lost my temper. It was the heat of the moment and I was shaken up. I am REALLY sorry and the refs deserve respect.

    If Wideman says that, he gets ten games.

    Has Burke said ONE SMART THING since this all started? All he has done is throw gasoline on the fire.

    Burke reminds me of McTavish. That’s just about the worst thing you can say, but it’s true.

  • Crazy Flames

    Me personally, I don’t think Wideman had any intent on cross checking Henderson from behind like that (in the way that he did). Maybe he knew what he was doing and maybe he didn’t. I doubt very few players in the league would do anything like that on purpose. Now was it a because of a possible concussion, anger, just plain idiocy? Don’t think we will ever know.

    By the rule book the suspension should fall somewhere between 10-20 games. My feeling is 15 games. Buttman and Campbell feel 20 games is the right call. At the end of the day, for the Calgary Flames, it really doesn’t matter. Season is all but over. The most important thing is this gives Naks a great chance to prove he belongs in the NHL.

    Hopefully the arbitrator reduces it by a couple games, but if not…. Meh doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe if this was last season when Wideman was having a career season. At this point lets get some fresh young blood in the line up and see what they can do in the NHL.

  • Mezzo

    So the logic is… don’t follow concussion protocol during a game, then consider Doctors opinions inconsequential because they weren’t there when it happened (and apparently Wideman is lying about taking a head shot and his subsequent concussion symptoms).

    At the same time, he is played during the game because he says he is okay, and in that instance he’s to be believed.

    I can understand disciplining a player for hitting a referee, and certainly the text messages of Wideman are there to make him look bad (and in fact, do look bad). That being said, the NHL has really blown it on taking concussions seriously, and creating conditions for players to actually report concussions/take themselves out of games – seeing as the NHL is not interested in that.

    All that being said, doing concussion protocol after the fact over face time doesn’t exactly do many favours for the case either. I suppose its disheartening to see all around.

  • Burnward

    That “microphone dropper of a conclusion” from Bettman would be better suited left in junior high.

    Petty, petty stuff to include that text of a text message.

    Could have easily protected the player by saying, “and messages obtained during the process show a disturbing lack of remorse in our opinion.”

    Wideman has his own rebuttal that makes sense. Dude thought he was getting railroaded. Which it looks like he is.

    Bitch move from the NHL.

  • Burnward

    Gary Bettman releasing those text messages was a junior high, drama queen move.

    Uncalled for and petty.

    “Oh, yeah?!? Well, I’m going to make sure everyone knows you’re a real stupid head.”

    Garbage.

  • Lets Get Something Clear

    Let’s get something clear. Homophobia, demeaning of sexual conduct and racism shouldn’t be accepted on these boards.

    Given the proactive conduct of FN mods on previous posts, I’m frankly shocked that WW’s comments have been left intact or that he hasn’t been warned.

    WW can be a troll if he pleases. He can have any opinion that he’d like. But this kind of language wouldn’t be acceptable if he directed it at another commenter. And it shouldn’t be acceptable even if he directs it at Bettman.

  • Bettman is using this to his utmost ability to put the players and the ‘PA in their place.

    John Scott styling the show and completely dismantling the league’s last try at ousting him from the ASG (the unnecessary and fruitless trade and derailment to the minors), showed the player’s power and influence as well as highlighted the childishness of Bettman and Co.

    The lockout was the league trying to out power and press into servitude, the NHLPA.

    I’ll leave other examples up to other posters to write about, but it is endless.

    Once again, Bettman wants to crush the abilities of the players to exercise themselves being anything other than subservient chattel of NHL owners, rules, and the league proper.

    Now the players can’t be human and text / tweet their minds thoughts to their friends and family unless it holds a rosy image of the league. Sure the CBA had this available for disclosure, but none imagined it would be used THIS way.

    Batman has had a week to craft a finely worded legal document, obviously with the help of a well equips legal team. What’s the average player supposed to equip himself with? No player would have seen this coming. On top of that, this legal army took a week of deliberating! A week?!!?!! 20 ultra smart men and women need a week to decide what’s best? Is that a “timely manner”?

    This whole thing is totally in uncharted territory. The players (AND FANS) better see that this is an NHL power trip. This is wormy, wimpy, whiny, bobble-neck Bettman COMPENSATING for the shallowness of character and the BOOS, jeers, and disrespect he garnishes 24/7 from players and fans.

    Now Dennis’ reputation is gonna take a hit. Let’s see how the player community rallies around another player being unfairly treated. I hope this gets dirty and I hope the “stupid refs and the stupid [league]” continue to wear egg proudly on their faces.