NHL players union says Bettman can't restore defenseman's ban

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Hockey League’s players union on Friday urged a U.S. court not to grant Commissioner Gary Bettman broad power to override arbitrators when deciding how severely to discipline players for improper on-ice conduct.

May 30, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks at a press conference before game one of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks at Consol Energy Center. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Citing a recent appeals court ruling against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NHL Players Association said Bettman should not be allowed to restore a 20-game suspension of Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman for hitting a linesman, after an arbitrator cut the ban to 10 games.

The NHL had sued to revive the longer suspension on June 8, contending that the arbitrator reviewing the matter under the league’s collective bargaining agreement was not “neutral,” and ignored substantial evidence justifying the original ban.

But in a filing with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the NHLPA said Wideman’s 10-game ban should stand.

Citing the April 25 court ruling restoring Brady’s four-game suspension from the National Football League for deflating footballs, the union said federal courts have only “narrowly circumscribed” authority to review labor arbitration decisions.

“A federal court may not require perfection in arbitration awards,” the union said. “The court must simply ensure that the arbitrator was even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority and did not ignore the plain language of the contract. There can be no credible dispute that this was the case here.”

Lawyers for the NHL did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Wideman was suspended for cross-checking linesman Don Henderson in a Jan. 27, 2016 game with the Nashville Predators, leaving Henderson with a concussion and unable to work games.

The defenseman served 19 games of his original suspension before his penalty was reduced, and was to have been reimbursed for lost salary attributable to the longer ban.

Brady has ended his appeal of his own suspension and will miss the first four games of the upcoming NFL season.

The case is National Hockey League v National Hockey League Players’ Association, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-04287.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis