CALGARY, AB -- Brian Burke understands.
But the president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames knows there has to be a better process than the one that defenceman Dennis Wideman went through in seeing a 20-game suspension reduced to 10 by an independent arbitrator.
“It has to expedited for the next player that goes through this, but this is the first time through,” Burke said. “I went on a bit of a rant when the commissioner ruled on this about the delay, but having gone through it now, I think you have to respect the fact that this is unchartered waters for everybody. It’s a new process and it’s the first time that a neutral arbitrator has been involved and so to throw rocks at anyone about how long this took is counter-productive. I do think they need to streamline this for the next player that goes through this.”
Wideman saw his suspension reduced by neutral arbitrator James Oldham on Friday following a two-day hearing in New York City starting Feb. 25.
The initial incident, which saw Wideman make contact with linesman Don Henderson, occurred during the second period of a game against the Nashville Predators on Jan. 27.
Wideman was issued the 20-game suspension for conduct violative of Rule 40 (Physical Abuse of Officials) on Feb. 3 by NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell.
He appealed to commissioner Gary Bettman on Feb. 10.
When Bettman upheld the 20-game mark, Wideman appealed to Oldham.
Oldham’s ruling came 43 days after the initial incident.
“It’s a new process,” Burke said. “You have to understand, for neutral arbitrators, like this arbitrator, this is a normal time frame for this type of a dispute. If you’re in a commercial dispute and it goes to arbitration, this is not an unfair length of time, it’s not even out of the ordinary. In fact, this is probably expedited. I’ve been through a number of arbitration's; the clock is not ticking on most of them. The goal moving forward has to be to have a more streamlined process, but I’m certainly not going to find fault in it today.”
Oldham reduced Wideman’s suspension, taking into account a lack of intent from the player and an 11-year disciple-free NHL career.
“This is the first time this process has been evoked and we respect the process,” Burke said. “However, we hope that the process gets expedited for the next player that goes through this. With regards to the arbitrator’s decision, we are grateful that the finding was made that the contact was not made with any intent to injure the official involved and we believe that’s the case. We also fully support sanctions against players who may deliver contact against officials. Our goal is to put this behind us now. I consider the matter closed.”
In all, Wideman missed 19 games.
“It doesn’t serve us any purpose being angry about anything,” Burke said. “We’ve gone through a difficult process. Our player made contact with a linesman. The League dealt with it. We always assume and believe that the League has the best interest of the League in mind. We trust them completely. We believe there is integrity there. They made a conclusion. The process went to an appeal and a second appeal and it’s over.
“There’s not much point in my ranting and raving about it. I’m sure you’re all disappointed but today is the day to close the door, in my mind.”