(February 3, 2016) – Last week, Dennis Wideman took a hit in the corner from Miikka Salomaki of the Nashville Predators and proceeded to skate back to the Calgary Flames bench. On his way, Wideman crossed paths with linesman Don Henderson and, rather than attempt to move around him, seemed to throw a check into the back of the 20-plus-year veteran official.

On Wednesday, the NHL dropped a 20-game suspension on Wideman.

Historically, according to an article last updated in 2014 from The Globe and Mail, the NHL has issued suspensions ranging from 15 games to a lifetime ban for hitting an official. The NHL cited Rule 40.3 in its official announcement of the suspension. Rule 40.3 sets a 10-game minimum for “any player who deliberately applies physical force to an official in any manner” (Rule 40.3 – Category II) and a 20-game minimum if there is intent to injure (Rule 40.3 – Category I).

The hit and suspension will cost Wideman over $500,000 in salary, all of which goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Wideman has been playing in the NHL since the 2005-06 season, totaling 755 games, and this will be his first career suspension. In fact, Wideman hasn’t so much as served 50 minutes in the penalty box in a single season since 2007-08.

He averages just a single minor penalty every three games over the course of his career.

This isn’t a situation where we have a multi-time repeat offender making an indefensible play (like when Raffi Torres was suspended 41 games for a preseason hit on Jakob Silfverberg back in October), but seems to be an otherwise-clean player making a major mistake.

After the game, Wideman called his hit “completely unintentional” when meeting with the media, saying “I was kind of keeled over and, at the last second, I looked up and I saw [Henderson] and I couldn’t avoid it.”

Former NHL official and current TSN columnist Kerry Fraser stated that he believed contact between Wideman and the lineman was unavoidable in his “C’Mon Ref” article immediately following the incident. However, the way the contact was made is what Fraser objected to (he called for a 10-game suspension in his original article).

When it comes to opinions regarding on-ice officiating, Fraser, with his 30 years in the NHL and years as an analyst, is a very reasonable person to look to.

What Wideman did is not defendable, and he definitely deserves to be handed a stiff suspension from the NHL. And I do think that Wideman’s history, or rather lack of suspension history, needs to be weighed in as well.

Where Fraser and I disagree is on how that translates as far as game count.

Historically speaking, suspensions of 20 games or more have been reserved for repeat offenders and intent to injure…for the most part. Todd Bertuzzi got 20 games for his hit on Steve Moore in 2004. Marty McSorley received 23 games in 2000 after swinging his stick at the head of Donald Brashear.

There are two suspensions in NHL history that are lengthier than the ones handed to Wideman based around contact with officials. In 2000, Gordie Dwyer received 23 games in part for abusing officials (combined with leaving the penalty box to fight) and, in 1927, Billy Coutu received what was initially a lifetime ban for attacking two officials and starting a bench-clearing brawl.

Neither incident is comparable in severity or situation to Wideman, which – at least for me – suggests a ceiling for length of suspension at 23 games.

And then there’s Tom Lysiak.

In October of 1983, Tom Lysiak (who finished his NHL career with 567 PIM in 919 games) intentionally tripped linesman Ron Foyt on a faceoff. It was quite a different era, and so it was the referee for the game, Dave Newell, issuing the suspension.

Lysiak received 20 games.

In Lysiak’s case, the linesman was not injured and Lysiak did not have a history of being suspended, though there was obvious intent in the situation. Meanwhile, in Wideman’s situation, the linesman was later taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons, Wideman also does not have a history of being suspended, and at least some intent is obvious (Wideman definitely initiated contact and escalated the contact beyond what was inevitable given the two’s skating paths).

At the very least, you could say that these situations are comparable, making the 20-game suspension pretty spot-on. Even if you weigh Wideman’s hit as being worse than Lysiak’s (check in the back compared to a trip from behind), the difference in how suspensions are handled can account for the difference.

While I wouldn’t have objected to a suspension of closer to 15 games, or even up to 23-25 games (if the NHL deemed intent to injure), the 20-game ban seems the most historically reasonable. It’s an unfortunate situation surrounding a player who is otherwise regarded as not being dirty on the ice. You can’t stand for players acting physically aggressive towards officials and the NHL has to be tough if and when these things happen, regardless of the player involved.

For me, 20 games and a forfeiture of over $500,000 works just fine; it sends a message while taking both the player’s history and the situation at hand into consideration.

Wideman’s suspension is subject to appeal.