In what will surely go down in history as the world’s most expensive cross-check, Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman was slapped with a 20-game suspension for hospitalizing a linesman during the team’s final game before the All-Star break. The long stretch on the bench means the defenseman will forfeit $564,516.13 worth of his salary, a hefty sum for the 11-year veteran in his fourth season with the Flames.
The hit on linesman Don Henderson occurred during the second period of a game against the Nashville Predators as Wideman was skating back to the bench after taking a massive check from Predators’ right-winger, Mikka Salomaki. As Wideman approached the bench he hit Henderson square in the back sending him to the ice and against the boards. Henderson appeared injured but no penalty was called and both player and linesman finished out the game. Afterward Henderson was taken to the emergency room complaining of neck pain and nausea where he was diagnosed with a concussion.
There is some debate as to whether the contact was intentional or not. Wideman claims he was “woozy” and disoriented from Salomaki’s vicious knock and couldn’t avoid the contact. Others believe the cross-check was in retaliation for Salomaki’s hit not being called for a penalty. With the league rules dictating either a 10 or 20 game suspension depending on whether there was “intent to injure” it is clear the NHL and its commissioner, Gary Bettman, are treating the impact as deliberate.
Wideman has expressed regret about the situation insisting that the collision was unintentional and unavoidable. At the first stoppage after the incident he skated over to the officials grouped along the boards to apologize directly but that will have little effect on either the league or the NHL Officials Organization who are charged with protecting their personnel first and foremost.
Wideman can appeal the sentence directly to Bettman and perhaps even exercise his right to a neutral arbitrator if the appeal fails. It is unclear what Wideman’s intentions are at this point but it is likely the Flames will appeal any sentence over six games in an attempt to keep their Alternate Captain off the ice for as little as possible.
Wideman won’t don skates while his case is under appeal causing the Flames to recall defenseman Jakub Nakladal from their AHL affiliate, the Stockton Heat, but the loss of a player like Wideman will likely be a blow to a team struggling to stay in 6th place in the Pacific division.
“Wides is a big part of our team,” said Flames Captain Mike Giordano. “He’s a great player on the ice but off the ice, too, he’s a guy who had a voice in this room. Hopefully, it all works out.”