Dennis Wideman's 20-game suspension for physically abusing an official has been reduced to 10 games by an independent arbitrator, who ruled that the Calgary 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.
Wideman, who has already served 19 games of the 20-game suspension, will be reinstated immediately.
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."
Commissioner Gary Bettman initially upheld the NHL's 20-game suspension on Wideman's appeal. The NHLPA then appealed to an independent arbitrator.
Wideman will be refunded $282,258 of the $564,516 he was going to forfeit as a result of the suspension.