Tag Archives: NHL suspensions

Wideman suspenion gets messier

On January 27 Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman took a hit to the boards from the Nashville Predators’ Miikka Salomaki. On the play, Wideman’s head appeared to hit the glass. After laying on the ice for a few seconds, he got up, still looking groggy and skated to the Flames bench. But just before he entered the Flames bench he cross-checked linesman Don Henderson from behind. Henderson went down immediately. Estimates are that the whole sequence of events took between eight and nine seconds.

Wideman was not assessed a penalty on the play and Henderson finished the game, but did spend the night in a Calgary hospital under observation. The NHL immediately suspended Wideman indefinitely pending a full investigation and hearing that was held in Toronto on February 2. Given that the incident involved an official, the only real question was how long the suspension would be and if Salomaki’s hit on Wideman had been a factor.

A day after the hearing, we got the verdict. Twenty games, assessed for “conduct violative of Rule 40 – physical abuse of officials – during NHL game No. 742”. The NHLPA has already stated that it will appeal the decision, which will be heard firstly by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and then by an independent arbitrator1James Oldham, an independent arbitrator jointly by the League and the NHLPA if Wideman and his representatives are not happy with Bettman’s review. Under the terms of the current collective bargaining agreement, Wideman will forfeit US$564,516.20 in salary, which will go to the Players Emergency Assistance Fund. We would expect Bettman to rule that the penalty is appropriate, if only to protect the NHL officials, if nothing else. That means that Wideman’s case may be the first to go to an independent arbitrator.

While Wideman is obviously the only one who knows, for sure, whether his hit on Henderson was intentional, the whole situation brings to mind more questions and points for discussion.

Wideman’s explanation was that he was dazed from the Salomaki hit and didn’t see Henderson until the very last moment, at which time it was too late to avoid Henderson. Wideman apparently apologized to Henderson soon after the incident and again later that evening2he later stated that the Salomaki hit left him with “some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck. I was just trying to get off the ice. I was kind of keeled over. At the last second I looked up and saw Henderson. I couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go – or how to get out of the way”. In the player’s defense, he has no history of violent conduct, either against another player or against an official. However the NHL has made it very clear on numerous previous occasions that abuse of officials will not be tolerated, so a lengthy suspension was anticipated.

The League took the position that it was clear abuse of one of its officials and ruled accordingly. It really had no choice. Any other decision would put its officials at risk and would undoubtedly trigger the officials association to take a stance with the league. Wideman, the NHLPA and Flames management took the position that Wideman was dazed and was unaware of what he had done. If he was dazed, it isn’t clear why he stayed on the bench after the incident. The NHL’s concussion protocol requires that any player suspected as having any kind of concussion, even if considered minor, he must go to the so-called “Quiet Room” for further examination. Media sources in Toronto are now reporting that Wideman was in fact diagnosed with a concussion and that the “concussion spotter” at the game advised the Flames bench that showing symptoms of a concussion and should be taken to the “Quiet Room”. It is also being reported that the Flames trainer(s) wanted Wideman to go to the Quiet Room, but Wideman refused.

This latest development throws a whole different light on the matter. If in fact the Flames bench was notified of the possibility of a concussion, why was it left up to the player to determine whether he stayed on the bench or went to the Quiet Room? If a player is truly concussed, is he in a position to make that decision as to whether he stays in the game or not? If the League has taken the time to institute a concussion protocol and employs “concussion spotters”, why does the process not immediately take matters out of the player/his team’s hands and put it in the league’s hands or at the very least the hands of a qualified, impartial medical staff?

It seems that the League finds itself in a very awkward situation now. If in fact the concussion protocol was not followed correctly, then they may have ruled incorrectly, or at the very least prematurely. If the player is found to have been concussed, to any degree, how does the league prevent players from using the concussion defence in the future for any attacks on opponents or officials? If the Flames coaching staff actually were informed about the possible concussion, will the league take action against the team for ignoring the protocol?

Wideman is a useful player and was a pleasant surprise last year in the Flames run to the playoffs, getting 56 points in 80 games. His role diminished somewhat this season as the Flames acquired Dougie Hamilton from the Boston Bruins over the summer, reducing Wideman’s ice time by about three minutes a game and bumping him to the Flames third pair of defensemen. The Flames are struggling to make the playoffs this year and if the 20 game suspension is upheld, Wideman will be out until March 14, by which time the Flames will have 17 games left in their regular season. Between now and March 14, the NHL trade deadline will be upon us (February 29) and if the Flames find themselves as sellers at the deadline, how can they trade a suspended player or an injured player and expect a suitable return? With one year left on his contract at US$5.25 per season, Wideman would be a classic trade deadline target for a contender looking to add depth on their blue line.

No one wins here. Wideman’s reputation has been tarnished and he may well have a medical issue. The NHL may have overstepped its bounds by ruling so quickly, perhaps without sufficient evidence. The Flames may have contravened a league policy and be subject to a fine or other penalties. Henderson may also have a concussion.

It’s a mess, and likely no clear winner will emerge from this situation. Let’s hope that whatever the reason(s) for this ugly incident, all of the facts are on the table before a final ruling is made.

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1. James Oldham, an independent arbitrator jointly by the League and the NHLPA
2. he later stated that the Salomaki hit left him with “some pretty good pain in my shoulder and neck. I was just trying to get off the ice. I was kind of keeled over. At the last second I looked up and saw Henderson. I couldn’t avoid it. I went up to Donnie and apologized to him on the ice. I didn’t see him. I didn’t know where to go – or how to get out of the way”

Will Raffi Torres ever learn?

The San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks met in a pre-season game on Saturday night. For some of the players participating in the game it was simply another step in getting their fitness and timing up to game level before the regular season starts on October 7. For others it might have been their last chance to impress the coaches and make the team. Ducks forward Jakob Silverberg was not playing for a spot on the roster. As an established NHL player, he was likely just putting the final touches to his game fitness. The Sharks’ Raffi Torres may/may not have been one of those trying to impress the coaches. To say that Torres has had a checkered past would be an understatement. During a 12 year career, where he has played 703 games (including 68 playoff games) for seven teams, his career has been marred by numerous interruptions because of his aggressive, often reckless play. Currently in his second stint with the Sharks, in the latter half of the first period of Saturday’s game against the Ducks, as Silfverberg was in the Sharks defensive zone and lost the puck, Torres came across the ice and used his shoulder to deliver a check to Sifverberg’s head. Torres was given a match penalty on the play and to most seasoned observers it was obvious from his body language that he was astounded that he was getting a penalty on the play. We have seen this before; both the type of hit and the after reaction.

One of the intriguing features of the game of hockey, especially at the NHL level is the fast, aggressive style of play. Fan following has been built on the physical aspect of the game and while I have written previously on the need to eliminate fighting from the game, I have also taken the position that good, clean hits are a part of the game and should remain so. What Torres did to Silfverberg is neither good nor clean and has to be removed.

By virtue of the match penalty and the severity of the hit, the play was automatically reviewed by the NHL’s disciplinary committee. On Monday, the league announced that Torres had been suspended for 41 games for his actions. This is Torres fifth suspension, all for late/illegal hits and in addition he has been fined three times and warned on two additional occasions about his body checking “style” and he has been counseled that in today’s NHL, such a “style” is neither allowed nor condoned. Torres has defended himself in previous hearings by saying that his playing style was such that he was an aggressive hitter. That only washes once, especially where hits to head are concerned and the possible after effects to a player’s health after absorbing a hit to the head. Hockey is not unlike all other major sports. Head injuries and concussions are being monitored very carefully.

Jump back to the 2012 playoffs where Torres was given a 25 game suspension for a hit to the head of Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. Most players would take a 25 game suspension (equivalent to 30% of a regular season) as a serious warning. Upon appeal, the suspension was reduced to 21 games, which Torres served over the balance of the 2012 playoffs and the first eight games of the 2012-13 regular season. Torres apparently did not recognize the warning that the length of the suspension for hitting Hossa was intended to impress upon him. Just over a year later in May 2013 he was suspended for hitting LA Kings forward Jarret Stoll in the head. As a result of his own injuries, Torres had only played in 15 games since serving that suspension before Saturday’s incident.

Now that he will be sitting for exactly half of the 2015-16 season (subject to any possible appeal by the NHLPA, which would appear to be inevitable although it is hard to fathom how the NHLPA can defend someone for such a vicious hit on one of his “brothers in the union”), surely he has to get the message that this type of behaviour won’t be tolerated. In addition to losing his salary for that half season (approximately $441K), at 33 years of age, with a checkered past and minimal appearances in NHL games over the last two seasons it is hard to see any team wanting to burden themselves with a powder keg like Torres. Given his history, it’s hard to see the Sharks rolling out the red carpet for him at the halfway point in the season, especially if the team has been playing well without him.

In 2000, Torres was a first round pick (fifth overall) of the New York Islanders as an 18 year old after registering 223 points in three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. Fifth overall picks are usually reserved for top-notch players who can make a significant impact on their NHL team within three years, and in some cases they are expected to make a significant impact right away. Torres has made an impact, but not the type of impact expected from a fifth overall pick.

The math is easy. Torres has now been in the principal’s office ten times for bad behaviour. If the latest suspension is upheld, he will have lost 74 games due to suspensions and also lost $667K in salary through his five suspensions. He obviously hasn’t learned. If he wants to continue playing the game at the NHL level, he is going to have to be taught how to hit an opposing player within the rules of today’s game. The game has changed, Torres hasn’t and at 33 years of age it is hard to imagine that he will ever change his game. Those odds likely don’t add up to a return to the NHL after the suspension.

This latest suspension is the third longest in NHL history. In 1927 Billy Coutu was banned for life as punishment for assaulting a referee during game four of the Stanley Cup Final and in 2000, Marty McSorley received a one year ban for his part in a stick swinging episode with Donald Brashear. McSorley never played in the league again.

The NHL has been preaching for some time about the need to remove dangerous hits to the head from the game. The suspensions have been getting longer as each incident occurs. We always said it would take a lengthy suspension to a player for others to take notice and perhaps it will now. The only question is why did it take so long?