NHL appeals reduction of Wideman suspension in United States District Court


The NHL has filed a lawsuit in United States District Court against its players' union, seeking to overturn the arbitration ruling that reduced a suspension of Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman from 20 games to 10 earlier this season.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in Manhattan, the league argued arbitrator James Oldham "applied his own brand of industrial justice" by ignoring the findings of commissioner Gary Bettman, who had upheld the original suspension after Wideman appealed.

Wideman was suspended 20 games by the league for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson from behind during a January 27 game against the Nashville Predators, resulting in a concussion for Henderson. 

Moments before the hit in question, Wideman smacked his head on the end boards during a check and appeared dazed as he skated to the bench. He said he mistook Henderson for an opposing player.

By the time his appeal was heard on February 17 and upheld by Bettman, Wideman had already sat out 19 games. 

Wideman and the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) then brought the case before Oldham, a "neutral" arbitrator, who concluded on March 10 that evidence submitted by the NHL was not "substantially supported" and ordered that the punishment be reduced by half. He also ordered Wideman could recoup $282,258 of the $564,516 in salary he was going to forfeit.

In Oldham's opinion, Wideman did not display intent to injure Henderson, which the league had claimed. The NHL stated it "strenuously disagrees" with the ruling and vowed to fight it at the time.

In its filing on Wednesday, the league said Oldham exceeded his authority in relation to its collective bargaining agreement with the NHLPA.

"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," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.

It is a situation that displays eerie shades of the NFL's notorious Deflategate saga, which has dragged on for longer than a year through a series of legal battles between the league and its players' union.

In that case, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will serve a four-game suspension to begin the 2016 season after the league appealed a U.S. District Court judge's ruling that negated the original suspension a year ago. Brady's legal team currently is exploring last-hope legal avenues to avoid the ban again.