There’s a bit of a backlash at the Dennis Wideman suspension, 20 games under the Abuse of Official rule for cross checking linesman Don Henderson in the upper back. The motives of the NHL for the “harsh” penalty have been highly questioned by members of the media. Two examples of this are Trying To Make Sense Of Dennis Wideman’s Harsh 20 Game Suspension by Damien Cox of Sportsnet and The NHL Wants You To Believe Dennis Wideman Is Guiltier Than He Is by Dave Lozo of Vice Sports. The accusations include the NHL imposing a harsh penalty to look good but secretly hoping Wideman will win his appeal. The most drastic accusation is that even though the League accepted the diagnosis of a concussion suffered by Wideman moments before the incident, putting the onus completely on the Flames defenceman to still be in control and accountable for his actions exonerates the NHL from any blame in allowing him to continue playing in the game and violating concussion protocol.
While not everyone who argues against the ruling uses the same accusation for League motivation, 98% of these people use the same defense for Dennis Wideman: He didn’t specifically target or intend to injure the official in question, which would reduce the penalty by removing the tag of “intent to injure”. But what does intent to injure even mean? I think this is the essence of the argument. Rule 40.2, the rule under which Wideman got 20 games, states:
40.2 Automatic Suspension – Category I – Any player who deliberately strikes an official and causes injury or who deliberately applies physical force in any manner against an official with intent to injure, or who in any manner attempts to injure an official shall be automatically suspended for not less than twenty (20) games. (For the purpose of the rule, “intent to injure” shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury)
Where these people go wrong is assuming “intent to injure” means singling Henderson out as the specific victim. This is an interpretation that doesn’t cover all of what the rule says right there in black and white. This doesn’t necessarily mean that after Wideman got hit, he skated up the ice doing a Seinfeld teeth clench and fist pump and said “Henderson!” Asking the question “If he intended to injure Henderson, what was his motivation” is not a good argument because it has no bearing on whether he falls under 40.2. That’s like walking in a crosswalk, bumping into someone, and punching them in the throat. Then after seeing it was a police officer that was punched, saying “I didn’t realize it was a police officer.” It would still fall under assault of a police officer. Follow along with the wording. Even if Wideman didn’t mean to deliberately strike Henderson, he did in fact deliberately strike someone. It just so happened to be an official. Did he pre-plan it? No. But it still happened. Before you try and argue it wasn’t deliberate because it was reactionary, stop. Even a last second decision can be a deliberate strike. If a cross check to the back of the head is an attempt to get out of the way, let me never collide with Dennis Wideman. On the other hand, even if this was a reactionary cross check with no intent whatsoever; even if he did somehow think lifting his stick with both hands to shoulder height and thrusting it forward was the best way to soften the force of the collision, the definition of “intent to injure” as specified by the rule eliminates even that ridiculous story. “Intent to injure” shall mean any physical force which a player knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury. Case closed. If you’re a reasonable person and can still explain how driving your stick from behind into the shoulders of someone who doesn’t even know you’re there wouldn’t be expected to cause injury, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org immediately.
What would the options have been for the League anyway?
40.3 Automatic Suspension – Category II – Any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner (excluding actions as set out in Category I), which physical force is applied without intent to injure, or who spits on an official, shall be automatically suspended for not less than ten (10) games.
Again, the definition of the phrase “intent to injure” is pretty important. If Wideman had bear hugged Henderson to try and protect him, or leaned back or twisted in some sort of evasive maneuver and caused injury, I’d accept this. Knowing the definition, is there any part of 40.3 that would cover blunt force from behind?
Even if it did, the majority of this faction wouldn’t be satisfied with a reduction to 10 games. They claim the man was concussed and can’t be faulted. That’s the main premise of the Vice Sports article. But would I be any less guilty of punching an officer in the throat if I was drunk? They claim since this was an unavoidable collision where he didn’t even see Henderson, this should be 5 games or less like the great majority of all other suspensions. If he had hit a player, he’d only get 3-5 games! While that’s probably true, but there’s the pesky little problem of him NOT hitting a player. The rule book is there to protect referees more so than players. Unprotected, uninvolved people should be protected to a higher standard. So under the Abuse of Official category, what warrants a 3-5 game suspension?
40.4 Automatic Suspension – Category III – Any player who, by his actions, physically demeans an official or physically threatens an official by (but not limited to) throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment or object at or in the general direction of an official, shooting the puck at or in the general direction of an official, spitting at or in the general direction of an official, or who deliberately applies physical force to an official solely for the purpose of getting free of such an official during or immediately following an altercation shall be suspended for not less than three (3) games.
Is there anything there that even remotely includes actions similar to Wideman’s? If your answer isn’t no, you’ve probably never been cross checked from behind, even accidentally. Or maybe you have and are still suffering the effects. Either way, you should be again.