Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke says Dennis Wideman's suspension dilemma is a closed case and it's time to move on.
Wideman's 20-game suspension for physically abusing an official was reduced to 10 games by an independent arbitrator, who ruled that the Flames defenceman did not intend to injure linesman Don Henderson.
In an 18-page ruling Friday, James Oldham wrote that he agreed with the NHL's decision to suspend Wideman, but he disagreed that there was sufficient evidence to show the player deliberately wanted to injure Henderson when he hit him during a game on Jan. 27.
Burke addressed the decision prior to Friday night's game against Arizona.
"We are grateful that the finding was made that the contact was not made with any intent to injure the official involved. We believe that's the case," said Burke. "We also fully support sanctions against players that make deliberate contact with officials.
"Our goal is to put this all behind us now. I consider the matter closed."
Wideman was reinstated immediately and will be in the line-up against the Coyotes. The 11-year NHL veteran is expected to address the media after the game.
One criticism of the process from Burke has been how long it took. Commissioner Gary Bettman initially upheld the NHL's 20-game suspension on Wideman's appeal. The NHLPA then appealed to an independent arbitrator.
The defenceman has already served 19 games of the 20-game suspension. Over that time the NHL trade deadline came and went and Calgary tumbled out of playoff contention.
But Burke chose not to express frustration or anger over that. Instead his attitude was one of acceptance, adding that it was a learning experience for all involved.
"This is uncharted waters for everybody. It's a new process. It's the first time a neutral discipline arbitrator has been involved so to throw rocks at anyone about the length of time it took I think is counter-productive," he said.
He added that this is the situation that's been created considering the arbitration process that's part of the CBA is what was agreed to by the NHL and NHLPA.
"This is what the parties negotiated and I was part of the process for a stretch of time," Burke said. "This is the system they devised. Far be it from us to complain about it or suggest there's a better way to do it.
"There's got to be a quicker way to do it though."
He also said that by neutral arbitration standards, the time line for a ruling from Oldham was not unreasonable at all.
"You have to understand, for neutral arbitrators, like this arbitrator, this is a normal time frame for this type of dispute. If you're in a commercial dispute and it goes to arbitration, it's not an out-of-the-ordinary length of time. In fact, this is probably expedited," Burke said.
NHL disagrees with decision
While Burke considers the case closed, the NHL said it "strenuously" disagreed with the decision and will review the ruling to determine what next steps may be appropriate. The NHLPA, meanwhile, argued that given Wideman's concussed state following a hit from Nashville's Miikka Salomaki there should have been no discipline at all.
Oldham argued that the NHL's interpretation of the rules and their penalties was misguided. Rather than employing rule 40.2, which carries a suspension of no less than 20 games and suggests intent, the arbitrator believed rule 40.3, which carries a suspension of no less than 10 games and lacks intent to injure, should have been applied.
Wideman did not "deliberately strike" Henderson with the intent to cause injury, Oldham said.
"The league argues that Wideman's actions were, at the least, actions that Wideman knew or should have known could reasonably be expected to cause injury," Oldham wrote. "What, exactly, Wideman should have known, however, is not an easy question to answer."
Oldham was swayed in particular by the testimony of NHLPA witness Mathieu Schneider, who argued that "striking someone requires intent", and Stephen Walkom, the NHL's senior vice-president and director of officiating, who testified that Wideman "knocked (Henderson) to the ice with enough force to hurt him, even though he probably didn't intentionally mean to hurt him."
Wideman will be refunded $282,258 of the $564,516 he was going to forfeit as a result of the suspension.