Depending on one’s outlook, Wideman either made incidental contact with an official or launched a brutal crosscheck from behind to an official. Either way, the NHL will be taking a look at it. Wideman will have a hearing with the league on February 2.
Linesman Don Henderson had his back to Wideman as the defenceman was making his way to the bench. Wideman had been hit by Predators forward Miikka Salomaki and was apparently so disoriented by the contact that he couldn’t determine it was Henderson in his way. Subsequently, Wideman put his hands up to defend himself.
That is, at least, one version of events.
There are a couple of ways this could play out, thanks to the NHL’s rulebook.
The first would be the employment of Rule 40.2, which states: “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.)”
In this sense, the key word is “deliberately.”
The argument for Wideman is that he was too “out of it” to know that he was facing the back end of an official. He didn’t recognize the distinction between the stripes of Henderson and the sweater of a Predator.
The argument against is that Wideman knew he was going to the bench, knew to even signal for a change and knew the route he had planned to take.
The problem here is that Henderson effectively skates into Wideman’s route off the ice because he doesn’t see the defenceman coming from behind. This is when, as you can see from the video, Wideman puts his hands up. This is also when Wideman finishes through with a crosscheck, which is the inexcusable part and the part the league will be looking at most. So while the contact was, to an extent, unavoidable, Wideman’s actions aren’t entirely justifiable.
That doesn’t mean the league will look at an automatic 20-game suspension, however.
The second way this could play out involves the application of Rule 40.3, which states: “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.”
Here, the 10-game suspension would hinge on a lack of intent to injure. As almost every single hockey player says in these sorts of situations, there was never any intent to injure involved. Nobody was supposed to get hurt by the application of lumber to the back of someone’s head and so forth. And the league, given the nature of the game, has always given wide berth to things like intention.
There were other ways to avoid contact or to minimize contact. If Wideman did think he was contacting a Predator on his way to the bench, he would’ve been crosschecking a Predator from behind. Period. He didn’t bear-hug the “obstacle” or decelerate his forward motion. He extended his arms, pushed with the crosscheck, finished the movement. There may not be “intent to injure” involved with that in the traditional sense, but it still makes a person wonder what on earth Wideman was thinking.
So yes, Wideman will be tagged with a considerable suspension from the league. It’ll either fall in the 10-game range or the 20-game range, depending on how the NHL assesses his intentions.