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How responsible are players for their actions after head trauma?

Matt Larkin
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Author: The Hockey News

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How responsible are players for their actions after head trauma?

Matt Larkin
By:

Nazem Kadri claims he was dazed and didn't remember his throat slash gesture. Is it a coincidence that his defense comes in the wake of Dennis Wideman's appeal?

The hit from Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano was crisp and clean. The ensuing throat slash from the victim, Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri, was a bit vulgar, enough to warrant a review from the NHL's hockey operations department, but relatively harmless.

Quite concerning, however, were Kadri's post-game comments about the incident.

"I think I said '(You're) done,' " Kadri told reporters. "But, like I said, the whole situation was a bit fuzzy."

Kadri added the incident was "something I don't really remember doing. I was kind of in and out after the hit."

We have ourselves a problem.

Kadri's defense of being dazed would raise enough questions if it were an isolated incident, but it's particularly noteworthy because it comes in the wake of the Dennis Wideman scandal. The Flames blueliner absorbed a massive collision in a Jan. 27 game against Nashville, drilled linesman Don Henderson immediately afterward and earned a 20-game suspension from the NHL hockey operations department as a result. Wideman claimed he couldn't avoid Henderson, that he "looked up at the last second" before crashing into Henderson, but the footage showed a player that appeared to have intent, as Wideman was upright and exploded through the impact. His story didn't match what appeared to actually happen. The apparent intent was a big reason why he earned such a stiff penalty, and the NHL had to send a message that it was sticking up for its officials.

But, as we await the result of Wideman's Thursday appeal, it's expected the NHL Players' Association's defense will revolve around concussion science and paint the picture of Wideman as a man who wasn't in his right mind after suffering a brain trauma and thus didn't act with true intent. The circumstantial evidence makes sense if we factor in Wideman's clean track record coupled with the fact his story didn't match what he did. The implication was that he did something he had no history of doing and had no memory of doing it. As laid out by TSN legal analyst Eric Macramalla, Wideman's apparent lack of remorse appears to support the NHL's "intent" claim at first glance but could just as easily be used to support the concussion defense, especially because the behavior was so uncharacteristic of Wideman. We also know the NHL openly accepts Wideman indeed sustained a concussion.

In light of the Wideman hearings, what should we make of Kadri's defense for his throat slash? Kadri underwent proper concussion protocol between periods, and the hit from Giordano came with about 90 seconds remaining in the first period of Tuesday's game. But concussion studies have suggested in the past that false negatives can occur. Just because Kadri passed a test several minutes after absorbing impact doesn't mean his mental faculties were intact immediately following the trauma.

So has Wideman set a new precedent, and is Kadri following it to protect himself? If Wideman wins his appeal via the concussion defense and has his sentence reduced, his hearing will absolutely be precedent setting. Can we thus expect a flood of "Kadri defenses," in which players point to head injuries to absolve themselves of responsibility? On the other hand, if Wideman's ban is upheld, do we remain at status quo?

All we know for sure is that Wideman's appeal means a lot for the game and transcends his individual situation. Now, we hold our breath and wait.

Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin

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How responsible are players for their actions after head trauma?