‘A Cross-check Too Far’

“National Hockey League linesman Don Henderson has filed a $10.25 million lawsuit against Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman more than a year after Wideman hit Henderson from behind during a game against the Nashville Predators… The Flames are also listed as a defendant.

“According to his lawsuit, Henderson suffered injuries to his head, neck back, shoulder, and right knee. He also allegedly suffered a concussion, pain, numbness and tingling in his right arm and hand, shock anxiety and depression, headaches and permanent and partial disability…

“The government of Alberta is also listed as a plaintiff in the case.

“The Plaintiff, the Queen, claims for the cost of health services provided to the Plaintiff, or which will likely be provided to the Plaintiff in the future for the injuries suffered as a result of the wrongful acts or omission of the Defendants as alleged…”

“According to the statement of claim, the government has asked the court to order Wideman and the Flames to cover the cost of in-patient and out-patient services provided in a hospital, dental surgery services, optometric services, chiropractic services, services provided by a podiatrist, mental health services, drug services, or any goods or services provided by a health service.”

–‘NHL linesman Henderson files $10.25M lawsuit against Wideman, Flames’,
Rick Westhead, TSN, April 20, 2017


“If you told me as a child that one day the perfect crime would be committed, and the victim would be the Calgary Flames hockey club, I might have expired from happiness.

“We will never be certain that it has happened: that’s part of the deal with a perfect crime. But it does look as though the Flames received about a year’s worth of vigilante justice from NHL referees in the wake of Dennis Wideman’s shocking January, 2016 assault of a linesman. With Calgary fighting for a playoff spot — and perhaps on a course to meet the Edmonton Oilers in a first-round series this spring — hockey fans are going to be discussing the “Wideman Effect” for a long time.

“The Flames were entertaining the Predators on Jan. 27 last year when Wideman took a bell-ringing hit from Miikka Salomaki in a corner of the Nashville zone. With the puck going the other way, the Flames defender got to his feet and skated, a bit woozily, toward the bench. Linesman Don Henderson was watching the play in Calgary’s end and had unwittingly obstructed Wideman’s access to the home bench. Wideman…threw a vicious cross-check to Henderson’s upper back.

VIDEO: https://youtu.be/Nj4PoDrqv-E

“Henderson, who has remained silent on the incident, has since had neck surgery and has not officiated another game. Wideman refused immediate concussion treatment. He looked angry and impatient after he had knocked down Henderson: if the cross-check was accidental, which is a bit of a stretch to begin with, he did a mighty poor job of demonstrating immediate remorse.

“The league originally gave Wideman a 20-game “Category I” suspension under NHL ‘rule 40.2’, which outlaws striking an official “with intent to injure”. Wideman sat out 19 games, but eventually an independent arbitrator ruled that Wideman’s offence had involved no ill intent {?}, and downgraded it to “Category II”. The penalty for this is a 10-game automatic suspension, so Wideman got back half his missing pay.

“Calgary fans were immediately concerned about how their team would be treated by the refs. Thirteen months after Wideman went nuts, there is now fairly compelling evidence that they were right.

“Before Jan. 27, 2016, the Flames had been one of the less-penalized teams in the NHL. (Wideman himself had no prior reputation for particular nastiness.) The rate of non-offsetting minor penalties called against the team jumped by more than 1.0 per game almost immediately after that date, stayed high well into this season, and has only now relaxed to more ordinary levels.

“It does not seem to matter much how you visualize the data, what method of expressing it you adopt, or what manner of analysis you perform. There is a suspicious (and enormous) jump in Calgary’s penalties, net and gross, on more or less precisely the date you would expect to see one. If you didn’t know about the Wideman incident, the data would probably have you asking what the hell happened around the start of February, 2016.

“The Flames changed coaches in the offseason, and a changed tactical approach could perhaps account for the “Wideman Effect”, but the statistical signal persisted through the end of Bob Hartley’s tenure, and continued under new coach Glen Gulutzan. The uptick in Calgary penalties coincides with an overall drop in the NHL’s background level of penalty calls, so it does not look like a seasonal thing.

“What it looks like is: the refs developed a real bad attitude toward the Flames. In a big hurry. Consciously or not. And if you think about the series of events from the refs’ perspective — which perhaps does not come naturally to most fans, or to ex-jocks on panel shows — the ‘Wideman Effect’ is not surprising at all.

“The NHL rule on automatic suspensions, as it is written, is patently ludicrous. It postulates a distinction between assaulting a referee or linesman with “intent to injure” and … the friendly everyday kind of assault, I guess.

“At the same time, 20 games seems like a pretty light penalty for intending to injure an official and acting on that intention.

“If Wideman had explicitly said “I intended to break Henderson’s neck and I’d do it again, grrr”, the league would surely have found a way to end his hockey career — as Henderson’s may have been ended “unintentionally”.

“The league, collectively bargaining with the ‘Players’ Association’, created a written rule that is both feeble and, in practice, almost never applicable. It was the money-conscious NHLPA, not the Flames, that appealed the original 20-game suspension on Wideman’s behalf: making an adversarial case for a player is their right and duty as a labour union. The Flames didn’t take any separate action against Wideman, and maybe we should not have expected them to, although in retrospect it might have been a smart idea.

“The referees’ interest in justice and in their own safety did not end up being represented very well, by any reasonable account, either in the creation of the rule or its enforcement. Officials had no formal place in the process of trying Wideman, or in sentencing him.

“This is exactly the sort of situation in which vigilante justice propagates, isn’t it? It would be surprising if the refs weren’t quicker to the whistle in Flames games for a while. And, look: it kinda turns out they were.”

–‘Vigilante justice and the Wideman Effect: When the laws of hockey go wrong’,
Colby Cosh, National Post, February 27, 2017



“…So, Calgary defenceman Dennis Wideman didn’t mean to cross-check linesman Don Henderson from behind on Wednesday night?

“He was disoriented after being run into the boards and his eyes were watering, causing him to mistake a striped jersey for that of the visiting Nashville Predators, and all he wanted was to get back to the bench and this large body was in his way, and he didn’t see it until the last second and then it was too late so he put up his hands to defend himself and then the dog ate his homework and anyway, he’s not that kind of player?

“Sounds plausible…

“All excuses aside, here is the least fanciful interpretation of events, which no doubt Wideman’s defenders will dispute until blue in the face, if not longer:

“Wideman got up from the hit, started skating the 60 or so feet to the Flames bench, tapped his stick on the ice to signal he was coming off for a line change, and had plenty of time, with his head now up, to see the back of Henderson and find a route around him. Zebras are quite well-marked, as you know. It’s hard to mistake them for anything else.

“But he was royally ticked off after going head-first into the boards, and would have taken it out on any object, animate or otherwise, that blocked his route to the door.

“It was a classic “get the bleep out of my way” cross-check. The larger mystery than why he wouldn’t merely bear-hug the linesman and move him aside is why there was no penalty on the play. If it had been a Predators player he hit like that, he’d have received at least a minor {major!} for cross-checking.”

–‘Dennis Wideman’s explanation for blindside hit on linesman sounds too good to be completely true’,
Cam Cole, National Post, January 28, 2016


See also:
More Than A Headache’ (Sports and Concussions) {August 28, 2016}:

NHL Says ‘NO’ To Olympics{April 29, 2017}:

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