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Wideman incident raises questions about NHL's concussion protocol

Dennis Wideman admitted in his disciplinary hearing that he suffered a concussion on the hit he received before crosschecking linesman Don Henderson, an act that earned him a 20-game suspension he is appealing.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

There’s a good chance Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman will become the first player in NHL history to have his suspension appealed to an independent arbitrator, but that’s not what will make this process so interesting over the next little while.

As has been widely reported, Wideman was suspended 20 games for abuse of official after crosschecking linesman Don Henderson from behind in a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators. The NHL Players’ Association has already filed an appeal on Wideman’s behalf, which is expected to be heard by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman early next week. If a further appeal is necessary, it will go to James Oldham, the league- and NHLPA-appointed independent arbitrator.

In its statement regarding its appeal, the NHLPA said: “The facts, including the medical evidence presented at the hearing, clearly demonstrate that Dennis had no intention to make contact with the linesman.”

Since then, has been told by an a source close to the situation that evidence in the hearing showed that Wideman was diagnosed with a concussion, suffered on the hit he took from Miikka Salomaki of the Predators about 8.65 seconds prior to Wideman crosschecking Henderson. The source also said that the league-appointed concussion spotter notified the Calgary bench that Wideman was exhibiting concussion symptoms and should be taken to the so-called Quiet Room for evaluation. The source said evidence indicates a member of the Flames training staff approached Wideman on the bench to take him to the Quiet Room and Wideman refused to go.

And the NHL essentially corroborated that in the video explaining Wideman’s suspension, saying, “it is accepted for the purposes of this decision that (Wideman) was later diagnosed as having suffered a concussion.” It also goes on to say that, “by (Wideman’s) own admission, he repeatedly refused immediate medical attention and returned to the game.”

If that’s the case, it calls serious question the NHL’s concussion protocol, basically leaving the decision to stay in the game up to the player, which it is specifically designed to prevent. Does the protocol have enough teeth to be effective if a player can effectively blow off a team’s medical staff and stay in the game? Will there be any repurcussions for the Flames for allegedly ignoring the protocol?

The league knows the last person who can likely be counted upon to be objective about having a brain injury is the player himself and the protocol is in place to take the decision about a course of action out of his hands. Wideman not only did not go to the Quiet Room, he was back on the ice about two minutes later and finished the game. It is not known whether the member of the training staff told anyone on the Flames coaching staff that Wideman needed to be taken to the Quiet Room for evaluation.

If this is the case, it not only changes the complexion of the Wideman situation, but opens an enormous can of worms. For example, if Wideman was indeed concussed on the hit and not of sound mind when he hit Henderson, would players be able to use that defense in the future to justify attacks on opponents? Likely not, since the NHL acknowledged Wideman suffered a concussion but maintained that even in that situation a player, “remains accountable for his own actions.” It also said that after the Salomaki hit, “Wideman also demonstrates his continued awareness of his circumstances and surroundings,” and “taps the ice to alert his teammates he’s coming off for a line change.”

But the biggest question here is, if it’s true that Wideman was spotted for a concussion, was notified that he needed to go to the Quiet Room and refused and medical staff acquiesced, how is it possible that the concussion protocol could break down so badly?

We reached out to NHL vice-president, hockey operations, Colin Campbell and did not receive a return call and deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who said he could not comment on the case. Daly did say, however, that if a team were to ignore concussion protocol, it would be subject to a fine. Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, GM Brad Treliving and Wideman were asked for a comment via the team’s media relations department, but did not receive one.

Burke, did, however, put out the following statement: “We were informed earlier today that our player, Dennis Wideman, was suspended for contact with an official in last Wednesday’s game against Nashville. We disagree with the severity of today’s suspension ruling and maintain that Dennis’ collision with the linesman was unintentional and accidental. We agree that our officials’ safety and well-being is of extreme importance in order to allow them to perform their duties. They perform an invaluable but underappreciated role in our game. We support sanctions against players who make deliberate contact with any official. However, unintentional and accidental contact does occur at times in our game. We will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”



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