Morning Free Association, August 1 – A Most Dangerous Game

NHL linesman Don Henderson is recovering from surgery.

According to KPD, the veteran referee had surgery 3 weeks ago to mitigate 2 ruptured disks in his neck. He was knocked down in January by Dennis Wideman in a notorious and spectacularly stupid incident.

Wideman was suspended by DOPS on the following day, kicking the final decision up to Colin Campbell of NHL Hockey Operations. Campbell announced several days later that Wideman would be suspended for 20 games. This was not tremendously surprising, since rule 40.2 of the 2015-16 Rulebook states that the penalty for purposefully striking and injuring an official is a 20 game suspension, though if it was ruled unintentional it could fall under rule 40.3 which specifies 10 games. (Rule 40 also specifies that it is the Director of Hockey Operations who makes this determination, not DOPS).

Wideman claimed that he was concussed by a hit he recieved shortly before the incident, and thus was not in control of his actions at the time. He went back to the team bench and finished the game, not receiving a concussion evaluation at the time, but was evaluated by an outside doctor the following day. This doctor said his symptoms were consistent with a concussion.

The suspension was appealed, with Commissioner Gary Bettman acting as arbitrator (as is standard procedure in this situation). To no surprise, Bettman upheld the 20 games. Wideman and the NHLPA escalated the appeal, demanding a neutral arbitrator. On March 11th, the arbitrator came back with a decision that the suspension should be reduced from 20 games to 10, but by this time Wideman had missed 19 out of the 20 games of the original suspension. However, this did result in his ability to receive pay for the 9 games that he was “not” suspended. (The NHLPA is able to petition for temporary reinstatement of a player when arbitration may not be promptly resolved, and they did so in this case, but the commissioner is able to deny that petition, and did so.)

The NHL was sufficiently unhappy with this result that they filed suit gainst the NHLPA on June 8th in Manhattan, seeking to vacate the arbitration result, restoring the original suspension and, in a perverse echo of the NFL’s “Deflategate” saga, claimed that arbiter James Oldham “applied his own brand of industrial justice” in the first appeal. (This is a reference, not specifically to Deflategate, but to United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp. argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960)

In addition, the NHL recently dismissed James Oldham, the neutral arbitrator who reduced the suspension. Both the dismissal, and the lawsuit appear – to the eyes of this non-jurist – to be completely unjustified, since the CBA includes language to allow inclusion of additional evidence, which appears to be the basis for the reduction of suspension.

As for Henderson, he completed the game in which he was injured, but has not worked a game since. He reportedly was suffering concussion and back pain symptoms. His friends have also reported concerns that he may never work as an on-ice official again.

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