judge upholds NHL defenseman's shortened ban, in defeat for Bettman
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[March 16, 2017]
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on
Wednesday rejected National Hockey League Commissioner Gary
Bettman's bid to restore Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman's
20-game suspension for hitting a linesman, and instead upheld an
arbitrator's decision to shorten the ban to 10 games.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in Manhattan said the NHL failed
to show that the arbitrator, Georgetown University law professor
James Oldham, exceeded his authority under the league's collective
bargaining agreement (CBA) with the NHL Players' Association (NHLPA)
in halving the suspension.
"Because it is at least arguable that the arbitrator applied the
standard of review bargained for in the CBA, the award must be
confirmed," Nathan wrote in a 27-page decision.
The NHL, in a statement, said it thought it had met the "very high
judicial standard" to void the arbitrator's decision, but was
"prepared to turn the page and move on."
Jonathan Weatherdon, a spokesman for the players' union, said the
NHLPA was pleased with the decision.
Wideman, who turns 34 on Monday, was suspended for cross-checking
linesman Don Henderson in a Jan. 27, 2016 game, with the Nashville
Predators, leaving Henderson with a concussion. The defenseman
eventually served 19 games of the suspension.
In seeking to restore the original ban, the NHL said Oldham ignored
substantial evidence justifying it, and did not act as a "neutral
discipline arbitrator" as the CBA required.
But the NHLPA countered that last April's federal appeals court
decision restoring New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's
four-game National Football League suspension for deflating
footballs showed that courts have only limited authority to review
labor arbitration decisions.
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Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman (6) celebrates his first period
goal with right wing Kris Versteeg (10) against the Arizona Coyotes
at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY
Nathan agreed, saying she owed "substantial
deference" to Oldham, and that it was "at least arguable" he applied
proper deference to Bettman's decision before rejecting it.
"Whether or not his ultimate conclusion was the only reasonable
one," Nathan wrote, "the arbitrator's analytical process does not
make unambiguously clear that he failed to apply the proper standard
Brady served his four-game suspension, but upon returning led the
Patriots on Feb. 5 to a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in
the Super Bowl.
The case is National Hockey League v National Hockey League Players'
Association, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan
Oatis and Sunil Nair)
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