James Oldham’s most notable decision as the NHL and NHLPA's neutral arbitrator appears as if it will also be his last.
According to the Sports Business Journal’s Liz Mullen, the NHL has dismissed Oldham from his post as neutral arbitrator. Oldham, a law professor at Georgetown University, was the arbitrator assigned to the Dennis Wideman suspension case. Oldham’s decision on the suspension saw the Calgary Flames defenseman have his 20-game suspension for checking linesman Don Henderson reduced to 10 games.
It was well within the NHL’s power to relieve Oldham of his duties, and either side would have had the power to do so if they believed it was time for a change in neutral arbitrator. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Oldham’s time with the league is up, though, considering the NHL has since sought to have Oldham’s biggest decision, the reduction of Wideman’s original 20-game ban, overruled.
In June, the NHL filed a complaint against the NHLPA in U.S. District Court in New York, seeking to have Wideman’s 20-game suspension reinstated. At the time of the complaint, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy that the league was “seeking to vacate” Oldham’s decision.
"We believe that Arbitrator Oldham, in reaching his decision, exceeded his contractual authority by failing to properly apply the parties' collectively bargained standard of review,” Daly said in a statement. “Today's action was motivated primarily by our regard for the collective bargaining process and the importance of maintaining and safeguarding the parties' reasonable expectations arising from the agreements made in that process.”
The belief of the league is that Oldham stepped outside of his duties by offering his own opinion on the suspension, rather than ruling on the punishment levied by Bettman. From the suit, via Scouting the Refs: “Mr. Oldham substituted his own judgment concerning Mr. Wideman’s ‘intent to injure’ for that of Commissioner Bettman. In so doing, Mr. Oldham failed to evaluate whether the Commissioner’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.”
Oldham was hired by the league to act as a neutral arbitrator in February 2004. At the time of his hiring, Oldham told the Georgetown University paper, The Hoya, that he would continue the position “for at least a year…or until either the NHL or NHLPA decides it is time for someone new.”
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