It may not sound like much on the surface, but the National Hockey League has applied for a judicial review against the NHLPA to vacate the reduced 10-game suspension of Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman.
Many will remember that Wideman was handed a 20-game suspension by the NHL after contact with an official in late January. The process went to an independent arbitrator, where the ban was reduced to 10 games. The NHL disagreed with the decision and is now alleging that the arbitrator, James Oldham, “exceeded his contractual authority by failing to properly apply the parties’ collectively bargained standard of review.”
Obviously, appeals are a big part of how things are done between the NHL and the NHLPA.
When a player is suspended by the league, the NHLPA has the right to appeal at the first level of the process. That’s what happened with the Wideman case, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman upheld the suspension and penned a 22-page opinion detailing his reasoning. The NHLPA moved on to the next level of the CBA-ordained procedure and filed another appeal, which is where Oldham came into play.
According to the terms of agreement between the league and the NHLPA, the application to see a neutral arbitrator is what’s known as “binding arbitration.”
But now that the NHL has had some time to get its ducks in a row, they’re rounding the bend to suggest that the so-called neutral party didn’t do his job.
In effect, they’re suggesting that Oldham’s review of Bettman’s opinion was at the crux of the matter. In other words, the arbitrator was to determine if the 22-page opinion was supported by available evidence. The NHL is saying that Oldham overstepped those boundaries and supplied his own opinion, which is a big no-no.
If this sounds like dry procedural mumbo-jumbo, that’s because it is. The NHL is essentially trying to reinstate the initial terms of the 20-game suspension to Wideman on the basis of bureaucratic grounds and that could present some problems down the line.
Thus far, the NHLPA has voiced its disappointment in the NHL’s actions. In challenging the decision of the neutral arbitrator, the league is effectively challenging the notion that such a decision would be final. And that is part of the language of the collective bargaining agreement, which has always represented a thorny issue between the NHL and the NHLPA.
The next step is for a judge to hear this allegation – or not. The overall thrust of the matter is that cases like this could serve as further evidence of an awkward relationship between the NHL and the NHLPA, which could have further implications down the line.