The National Hockey League Players' Association and Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke reacted to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's decision Wednesday to uphold Dennis Wideman's 20-game suspension for conduct in violation of Rule 40 (Physical Abuse of Officials) during a game on Jan. 27.
"We are extremely disappointed but not surprised that Gary Bettman upheld the decision of his staff to suspend Dennis Wideman for 20 games," the NHLPA said in a statement. "This decision completely ignores the effects of the concussion that Dennis sustained when he was driven into the boards eight seconds before colliding with the linesman. We will appeal to the Neutral Discipline Arbitrator in order to have this decision overturned."
Burke, speaking on Sportsnet's "Tim & Sid" show, said the Flames "disagree vehemently with the decision that was reached here. We were astonished by it, we don't understand it, we disagree with it completely.
"We've been asking for a result for several days, saying, 'When's this going to come down?' Because now, if this is appealed to the neutral arbitrator, they've virtually guaranteed that the player's going to do 10 games no matter what because it's going to take a couple days to get this thing put all together," Burke said. "So to take a week to rubber-stamp a decision that was made by the Hockey Operations department of the National Hockey League as games tick off for my player, that affect my team's ability to win, that affect playoff races, that affect competitive balance, is incomprehensible to me.
"We're not questioning the integrity of the process; the appeal has gone to the Commissioner; if all he's going to do is rubber-stamp it, we accept that, but then do it quickly so it can get to this third party."
James C. Oldman is the NHL/NHLPA neutral discipline arbitrator.
"The only objection we have here is the timing of this, and of course we disagree with the first decision," Burke said. "We believe this was an accidental collision between our player, a player with an 800-game career almost with no prior instance, never had a major penalty other than fighting majors, never got a five [-minute penalty] for hitting from behind, never got a high-sticking foul, never had an issue with an official.
"If you look at these Rule 40 offenses, they fall into two categories: Either this player had a beef with the official involved or he had a beef with another player and was disrespectful to an official. So he's either trying to settle a score or he's trying to settle a score with a player and disregards an official in the process. This is not that case. This is a player that's trying to get to the bench."
Wideman met with Commissioner Bettman at a hearing in New York on Feb. 10, pursuant to his appeal of the suspension assessed by NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell on Feb. 3.
The length of the suspension includes seven games already served.
Wideman was checked while playing against the Nashville Predators. On his way off the ice, he checked and knocked down linesman Don Henderson, who was injured as a result.