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Enforcer should get a major penalty

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 16, 2010

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We now know that the National Hockey League’s top disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, thinks Marc Savard is a “little fake artist.’’ Campbell wrote those words in an e-mail that ended up in a court case, as reported yesterday by an obscure hockey website, leaving Campbell with yet another black eye and the NHL with an embarrassing image problem at its top administrative level.

Delicious, isn’t it? This is the same Savard, by the way, who remains unable to play for the Bruins this season, his head still addled from the blind-side hit Matt Cooke popped him with on March 7. Yes, that Marc Savard, still trying to overcome clinically diagnosed depression and other symptoms related to post-concussion syndrome.

Campbell, remember, reviewed the hit at the time and considered it for possible supplemental discipline. He said he didn’t like the hit, but in the end he also said the league’s rulebook didn’t give him the muscle or leeway to do anything more than wag a finger of admonishment at Cooke.

Must have killed Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations, not to be able to stick up for Boston’s “little fake artist,’’ don’t you think? Maybe. Maybe not. But in a job that demands clarity and integrity, Campbell’s words now have him backed into a corner.

“We expect the league to be fair to us,’’ said Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, choosing his words carefully. “I think we’ve been treated fairly.’’

To no one’s surprise, the league’s corner office stuck up for Campbell, who no doubt shaped his opinion about Savard when the two of them were with the Rangers, Campbell as coach and Savard as forward/faker. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly yesterday noted to tsn.ca that to question Campbell’s integrity “at all times and in every decision’’ would be “way off base and just factually wrong.’’

True, a man can have opinions, and strong ones, and still be professional and rule judiciously. He just has to be smart enough to keep those opinions private. Campbell shared his opinions privately, and he’s now being hanged publicly. Another hard lesson learned about e-mail and the Internet. He should have been smart enough to know those risks before he hit the send button.

But the bigger mistake, really, was for Campbell to be sharing his opinion with anyone in the first place. His words look sophomoric and petty, and given his job, it leaves open the question of whether he is vindictive. Not good. His words are out there now, and forever, and forever his intentions, opinions, and prejudices will be questioned.

Campbell has been around too long, which is why I wrote here in March, after his continued refusal to deal efficiently and effectively with head shots, that he should be reassigned, at the very least moved off the job as disciplinarian.

At the time, I also wrote that commissioner Gary Bettman should step down, given that he failed to protect the integrity of the game, evidenced by his failure to act while players such as Savard and Florida’s David Booth both were victimized by head shots and carried off the ice, strapped to stabilizing boards to steady their necks and spinal columns.

Obviously, nothing changed in the job descriptions of either Campbell or Bettman. The league’s general managers and its Board of Governors finally got around to fixing the rulebook, and the wanton headhunting around the league has been reduced considerably this season. Thank goodness.

Campbell’s e-mail exchanges with Stephen Walkom, then the league’s director of officiating, came to light because they were entered into a trial in which a fired referee, Dean Warren, claimed wrongful dismissal by the league. One of the exchanges had Campbell venting over a penalty that his son, current Bruin Greg Campbell, received when Greg played for Florida.

“For me, it’s much ado about nothing,’’ a cavalier Campbell said yesterday when asked for an explanation by tsn.ca. “Stephen and I would have banter back and forth and Stephen knows I’m a [hockey] dad venting and both of us knowing it wouldn’t go any further that that. Stephen would laugh at me.’’

The minor penalty against the younger Campbell, made by Warren, was for high sticking against, yes, that “little fake artist’’ Savard. Now that the league’s top man in charge of discipline thinks Savard is a faker, is it not fair to wonder what the league-wide officiating crew thinks of Savard’s play? All the guys in stripes report first to Terry Gregson, and Gregson reports first to . . . yes, Campbell. Standard equipment for everyone: whistle and pocket-sized fake-o-meters.

The senior Campbell, as noted by Daly to tsn.ca, historically has not dealt with any governing issues related to teams that have the younger Campbell on their roster. In such circumstances, Campbell’s top lieutenant, Mike Murphy, has been in charge.

Along with moving Campbell off the job, the league, on a Board of Governors level, should redesign the overall method of supplemental discipline. The league continually says it wants to embrace a full partnership with its players, all of whom are members of the NHL Players’ Association (soon to be under the thumb of ex-baseball union boss Don Fehr).

Well, if a true partnership is the goal, the league and its PA should be partners in supplemental discipline, with one representative from each side working to find fair, equitable ground in such matters. A third body, possibly a former GM or team president or respected ex-referee, could be used as a tiebreaker. Leaving it all to one person is ill-conceived and dangerous. Expanding to two or three people would take the focus away from the decision-maker and put it where it belongs — on the decision.

But first things first. Time for Campbell to go. Like in March, it’s up to Bettman to do what’s right. If not now, when?

Not an easy act for the Commish. Campbell has been a good foot soldier doing a dreadful job for a long time. Now he has been shown to be a man documented to have an embarrassing bias, doing a job that demands impartiality and fairness. That alone makes his play offsides.

Bettman kept Campbell on the job in March when his dillydallying and foot shuffling left players with heads scrambled, careers in jeopardy. One of them, that “little fake artist’’ Savard, only hopes he gets to resume his livelihood. Best now that Campbell finds work elsewhere.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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