NEW YORK (AP) — The NHL barred Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman 20 games on Wednesday for cross-checking a linesman last week, the second-longest suspension in NHL history for abusing an official.
Wideman was suspended for violating the league rule on physical abuse of officials after he knocked down linesman Don Henderson during the Flames' game against Nashville on Jan. 27. The league cited Rule 40 in handing out the harsh penalty.
In a video explaining the suspension, the NHL said Wideman was diagnosed with a concussion after that game, but said being disoriented as a result of a hit was no excuse for "the nature and severity of the offense he committed on the ice."
"Wideman did not merely bump into or collide with the linesman," the NHL said in the video. "He delivered a forceful blow that was no accident."
Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, who served as NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations earlier in his career, disagreed with that assessment and the length of the suspension.
"(We) maintain Dennis' collision with the linesman was unintentional and accidental," Burke said. "We agree that our officials' safety and well-being is of extreme importance in order to allow them to perform their duties. They perform an invaluable but underappreciated role in our game. We support sanctions against players who make deliberate contact with any official. However, unintentional and accidental contact does occur at times in our game."
The 32-year-old Wideman will lose $564,516 in salary as a result of the suspension. Only Gordie Dwyer of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who was suspended 23 games in part for abuse of officials during an exhibition game in 2000, was suspended longer for such a violation.
Wideman had a hearing with the NHL's department of hockey operations on Tuesday that included representatives from the Players' Association and NHL Officials Association. The NHLPA announced Wednesday night it had filed an appeal on Wideman's behalf.
"Dennis has played in 11 NHL seasons and almost 800 games without incident," the NHLPA said in a statement. "The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman."
The NHL acknowledged Wideman's clean record through 755 career regular-season games but said abuse of an official is "one of the most serious offenses an NHL player can commit," even if isolated.
After the game last week, Wideman said he was in pain after a hit from the Predators' Miikka Salomaki and couldn't avoid hitting Henderson. He was not penalized and skated over to the officials and apologized moments later.
"Throughout my career — and I've been around for a few years — I think I've treated every official with the utmost respect," Wideman said, "and I would never intentionally try to hit a linesman or a ref or anything like that."
Wideman's suspension began with the Flames' game Wednesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.