Wideman suspension poses hard questions for NHL
The NHL handed a 20-game suspension to Dennis Wideman for his blindside assault on linesman Don Henderson, but the book is far from closed on the incident.
The NHLPA has already announced that it will seek an appeal with Commissioner Gary Bettman. If not satisfied by that result, the union can take it one step further by pleading its case in front of an independent arbitrator. There’s no telling exactly how many games the Calgary Flames defenseman will end up serving.
At this point, that’s almost a secondary concern. Because in announcing the ruling, the NHL opened a whole new can of worms regarding the viability of its concussion protocols.
There was speculation immediately after the incident that Wideman’s thinking may have been impaired as the result of a hard hit delivered by Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki. The league admitted that was the case in its video explaining the suspension: “It is accepted for the purposes of this decision that [Wideman] was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion.”
However, the league did not see that as exculpatory evidence.
But here’s where it gets interesting: “By [Wideman’s] own admission, he repeatedly refused immediate medical attention and returned to the game.”
So what we have is a player suspected of having suffered a brain injury being allowed to make a decision about his continued participation in a game.
If that’s where we’re at, what exactly is the point of these protocols anyway?
Trusting a player to make that call for himself in that situation is like allowing a 10-year-old to decide when they’ve spent enough time with the XBox or when they should go to bed on a school night.
They might think they know what’s best for them. They don’t. Someone else, someone qualified, needs to make that decision. In this case, it should have been the team’s medical personnel.
The procedure leading to that call is simple enough. The player is taken to a so-called “Quiet Room” and run through a brief series of tests. It’s hardly definitive, but it’s enough to allow a professional to make a reasoned decision.
Perhaps the Flames tried to do that with Wideman. We don’t know yet exactly what happened on the bench but we do know this much: The Flames were informed by the league’s concussion spotter of a possible problem; Wideman did not go to the Quiet Room for examination. He returned to the ice for his next shift and finished out the game.
In light of the postgame diagnosis, it’s clear that somebody screwed up. Bad. And as a result the Flames are likely to be fined for not taking the most basic precautions to ensure the health of their player. Given the current legal climate—on Wednesday 12 more players joined the class-action concussion lawsuit against the league—the NHL can’t afford to take this breach lightly.
We may never see an incident like Wideman’s cheap shot on Henderson again, but it’s a Smooth Jimmy lock that we’ll see another player try to fight through some type of head injury. With 12 games on the schedule tonight, each of them having playoff implications, there’s a better than zero chance it'll happen within 24 hours. It’s the perfect time then for the NHL to prove these protocols are more than just lip service to player safety.
The numbers game
• On Wednesday night, Bolts backstop Big Ben Bishop became the first goalie in Lightning history to win 100 games with the franchise. Nikolai Khabibulin ranks second with 83 victories in the blue and white.
• Captain Mark Giordano is now the fourth defenseman in Flames history to dish out 200 assists for the franchise. The others: Al MacInnis (609), Gary Suter (436) and Paul Reinhart (336).
• Don’t sleep on the Sabres. According to the numbers nuts at Elias, the Sabres have won a road game when trailing during the third period four times this season, all in regulation. Their victims: the Canadiens on Feb. 3, the Islanders on Nov. 1, the Red Wings on Dec. 14 and the Bruins on Dec. 26.
• The good folks at Hockey by Design critique the new Maple Leafs logo.
• Corey Crawford spends some time with a special young fan in the latest “What's Your Goal?” episode. Not sure why my allergies always seem to act up after watching these ...
• Pops, smokes and old friends. Nothing better than beer league hockey, even for an out-of-work NHLer like Mike Richards.
• Speaking of beer and hockey, check out the sights and sounds from an amazing pond hockey tournament in British Columbia.
• More than a year later, one of the biggest names in women’s hockey is finally clear of concussion symptoms and back playing the game she loves.
• Putting his epic failure at the World Juniors behind him, Jake Virtanen is proving himself NHL-ready.
• Was Donald Brashear able to get his fledgling hockey stick company the capital it needs during his appearance on Dragon's Den? Find out here.
• Finally, some bad tidings. A Russian hockey prodigy has succumbed to injuries suffered in a game last week. Our condolences to his family.
• And Jack Riley, the coach of the gold-medal winning American side at the 1960 Olympics has passed away at 95. Out thoughts are with his loved ones as well.