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Dennis Wideman, vicious hit, and the NHL's response
1:51 | NHL
Dennis Wideman, vicious hit, and the NHL's response
SI Staff
Friday February 5th, 2016

For the second Friday in a row, our weekly confab of SI.com staffers has turned into a head-to-head battle of hot sports opinions. This week, Sam Page and Al Muir discuss the issues of the day, including how to follow up on the John Scott triumph at next year’s All-Star Game, Connor McDavid’s Calder Trophy chances, the NHL’s concussion woes and reevaluating the biggest trade of 2015, all while wondering why Mike Blinn decided that Italy was the place to go in the middle of winter.
 
• In the wake of John Scott’s All-Star makeover party there’s talk of making the inclusion of a fringe player an annual part of the program. What do you think about that, and if it were to happen, who should be next year’s honoree?
 
Sam Page: Trying to recreate the John Scott scenario every year would be a disaster. Scott’s All-Star moment worked because he was the ultimate rebel against the NHL, succeeding spectacularly in spite of league-created adversity. Having an NHL-approved, pre-scripted Cinderella next season will fall flat and, worse, cheapen a genuinely cool moment. 
 

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That said, one palatable way to do it would be to create a player vote, for which the players select a guy based on likability, not ability. Goons, grinders, and old guys tend to top player polls for funniest/nicest opponent, anyway. Maybe Paul Bissonnette could get the call. 

 
Al Muir: Totally agree, guv. That was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, only made possible through a combination of the league’s mustache-twirling villainy and Scott’s gumption and Every Man charm. Try it again with someone else and it becomes a bit, one that’s bound to pale by comparison.
 
I like your player vote idea, though. Nobody know who’s deserving more than the guys themselves, so let them choose “The Player’s All-Star.” Maybe it’s a guy who never seems to get his full due, like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or a veteran winding down his career, like Patrik Elias. And if they decide to honor Shawn Thornton or Chris Neil, then who are we to argue?
 
• The Dennis Wideman verdict is in, but there’s plenty still to be discussed in the wake of his 20-game suspension. What are your thoughts on the issue of his concussion, and how might this play out for the league?
 
SP: I sympathize with Wideman because there’s no way he wasn’t foggy when he hit the linesman. The concussion makes a totally inexplicable situation obvious. But the NHL has a lot at stake here. It has to appease the refs’ union, as Elliotte Friedman reported.  
 
If Wideman had just come out of the game, he maybe could have avoided the suspension. But is that his fault, or the fault of the head-injury protocols? As Deadspin notes, the answer to that question might impact the NHL’s bottom line as the concussion lawsuits keep coming. My gut feeling is the suspension stands, just as a deterrent to any future referee abuse. 
 

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AM: The PA will go to the wall for Wideman on this, and they should, especially since the NHL appears to have accepted his concussed status but discounted it as a contributing factor. But I don’t see Gary Bettman relenting on appeal. There’s too much at stake, both in terms of that relationship with the officials and the precedent it would set for every player who is looking to avoid or diminish a suspension in the future. After that, though, who knows? The PA has the right to be heard in front of an independent arbitrator and there’s no telling how that might play out.

 
But like I wrote the other day, the suspension is almost secondary at this point to the larger issue of the league’s concussion protocols. If Wideman was able to blow off a trip to the quiet room on his own say-so, or if Calgary’s trainers didn’t demand that he go after receiving notice from the league’s concussion spotter, then they’ve got a massive design flaw to deal with.
 
And maybe this will lead to the league hiring trained personnel in as spotters, if only to strengthen the legitimacy of their opinion. I know a couple of people who are working in that role and they’re not medical professionals. You can just imagine a coach or trainer blowing off their input because it’s coming from an accountant or a teacher. But if an EMT or an actual physician was calling down, maybe that input is taken seriously.
 
• We’re a year on from the blockbuster trade between the Jets and Sabres that saw Evander Kane shuffle off to Buffalo and Tyler Myers head to Winnipeg. How do you like the deal for each side?

SP: Given the circumstances involved, I liked the trade for both teams and still do. Tyler Myers, because he skates so well, has a much higher ceiling than Zach Bogosian. And his improvement since he left Buffalo has validated that. The Jets will need all the giant, right-handed puck-moving defensemen they can get when Dustin Byfuglien bolts. 
 
But Evander Kane was always the biggest talent in the deal and I think he will return to the 30-goal plateau eventually, playing with Jack Eichel. (Of course, this trade could end up being remembered as one big disaster for the Sabres if anything comes of the pending investigation involving Kane.) I don’t know much about the prospects Buffalo had to thrown in, but none seemed to have Kane’s potential for long-term impact in Buffalo. 
 

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AM: One of those kids, Brendan Lemieux, is tearing it up since being traded to OHL Windsor earlier this season. He looks like he could be a middle-six player for the Jets down the road. I’m not sure if he tips the scales, but then again he might not have to. So far this looks like a rout for the Jets. Bogosian’s dealt with some injuries, but he just doesn’t look like the same player in Buffalo. You saw him get burned by Brad Marchand on Thursday night? Fly-bys like that are routine for him. He’s on the ice for 3.03 goals-against per 60 minutes according to War-On-Ice.com. That ties him with Jordie Benn for the worst mark in the league. And Kane? He hints at greatness, but he hasn’t delivered the offense they were expecting from him. I mean, the guy is on pace for 20 goals and 40 points.

 
Meanwhile, Drew Stafford is on pace to score 20-plus. Tyler Myers gives them the freedom to move on from Dustin Byfuglien (if that’s what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff decides to do). Jack Roslovic, who they took with the first rounder they got in the deal, is having an outstanding freshman year at Miami. And they don’t have to deal with the divisive presence that Kane had become. Big, big win for the Jets.
 
• Connor McDavid made his return to action on Tuesday night and looked pretty good for a guy who’d missed three months. The Oilers have 30 games left on their schedule. Can he mount a late run for the Calder?
 
SP: McDavid will have to make like Ryan Braun in 2007, when he hit 34 home runs and earned National League Rookie of the Year over Troy Tulowitzki despite missing 50 games by being in the minors.  What’s the hockey equivalent of 34 dingers in 113 games? We’ve got Artemi Panarin playing Tulowitzki, and he could conceivably get bumped from the Blackhawks’ top-six or just slump, finishing the season with “only” 65 or so points. 
 

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If McDavid hits 65 points this season, that would make his season scoring rate 1.48 PPG. That would be third-best ever for a rookie, ahead of Peter Stastny but behind Teemu Selanne and some other guy who was on the Oilers once upon a time. To make a long story short: It’s possible!

 
AM: Fair or not, awards voters tend to be swayed by a fast finish more so than 82 games of consistency, so yeah, this is definitely within the realm of possibility. And you watch the kind of magic that McDavid is capable of ... not just the five points in his two games back, but the special ways he makes things happen ... and you know he’ll find a way to capture everyone's attention. But he’s not going to be lining up against patsies like the Blue Jackets and the Senators—the two worst defenses in the NHL—every night the rest of the way, and it’s going to be tough to make enough of an impression to overcome what some of these other guys are doing. I don’t think Panarin’s a lock. I’m sure some guys will devalue him because of his age and experience. But you have him and Detroit’s Dylan Larkin, who is my pick at the moment, and Philly’s Shayne Gostisbehere, who could mount a late charge of his own ... that's a lot of guys to get past. I just don't think it's in the cards for him.

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