E-mail message is clear: Hit ‘delete’ on Campbell
So, let’s get this straight. The NHL’s top-ranking disciplinarian, Colin Campbell, remains comfortably in office and extremely well-paid, while court records in Canada have him noting that the Bruins’ Marc Savard is a “‘little fake artist.’’
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing, according to Campbell’s boss, Gary Bettman. Ditto for Bettman’s deputy, Bill Daly, who, like his boss, believes Campbell is not only doing an acceptable job, but continues to remain an exemplary guardian of the game’s officiating system and its overall on-ice integrity.
Yep, the NHL’s hierarchy, top dogs Nos. 1 and 2, believe that Campbell doesn’t have a problem. OK then, game on, nothing to see here.
Heavens to Kremlin, what’s going on with these guys? Enough people in the viewing and listening audience believe Campbell has a problem, which translates to the league having a problem, no matter what Nos. 1, 2, and Campbell continue to say to the media/enablers who are buying their baloney.
We only need to roll back the calendar nearly 18 years when a bold Bettman, less than six months on the job as NHL commissioner, had the mettle, common sense, and temerity to slap Dale Hunter with an unprecedented 21-game suspension for a dreadful and concussive late hit to Pierre Turgeon in the 1993 playoffs.
The forthright, shocking move was applauded in this space. Bettman was new, an astute suit from the NBA, a corporate sports transplant who brought new eyes and perspective to some of the game’s old woes. In one swift and decisive wave of his hand, Bettman essentially said, “Enough!’’
Slam players into the glass and damage their brains? No way was the new Commish tolerating such medieval ways or miscreants.
In his column for the New York Daily News, Frank Brown wrote, “Show me one other commissioner with the guts to crank one of his major players for one-quarter of a season and take $150,000 out of his wallet.’’
Brown, by the way, is now the NHL’s vice president of media relations. He was spot-on when he wrote that, and he remains one of Bettman’s best hires. What a shame that the guy Brown now works for has lost his courage.
Bettman sat on his hands, mouth conspicuously sealed, when Campbell last season watched David Booth and Savard get lugged off the ice, in far worse shape than Turgeon in ’93, and then dither about the rulebook not empowering him to punish their attackers (Mike Richards and Matt Cooke, respectively).
Look, regular readers of this space know this isn’t some bleeding heart Bruins fan sticking up for Savard (who was last spotted late Thursday night in the Bruins’ pro shop, purchasing one of his own No. 91 sweaters with the words “Colie Hate Me’’ across the shoulders). Much of me feels, big whoop, another guy thinks Savard is a faker. And in other news, the NHL has decided to give the rulebook a Herculean shake and allow forward passes in all three zones!
Everyone (even Vladimir Sobotka) is entitled to their opinion of Savard’s play, and that includes Campbell. But as the HMIC for looking at the game through a level, unbiased, dispassionate, and professional eye, he has to at least be bright enough to keep those thoughts to himself.
Did Campbell write that “fake artist’’ e-mail to Stephen Walkom, then the head of officials, expecting that it would show up in a Canadian court case? Of course not. But the world learned long before then that anything and everything in an e-mail is “out there’’ for the world to see. Putting his opinion in print was a gross error in judgment by Campbell.
In the hockey world, this is the kind of buffoonery that had been the exclusive domain of the Players Association through the ages. One-time union boss Ted Saskin and his band of peeping Toms were run off when they were caught sifting through members’ e-mails. We now can say the league and its players have a true partnership, linked by stupidity.
But overall, this chapter isn’t the tipping point that tells us Campbell needs to go away after a dozen years on the job. That came last season (and was noted here) when he did not act with alacrity and conviction after Booth and Savard were rendered instant couch potatoes by horrifying hits.
And though it’s easy to slap ourselves on the back here in the Universe of Know-it-All, it was US and Canadian media outrage over those hits and Campbell’s inaction that played a significant part in prompting the general managers and owners to put new language in the rulebook to protect the working help. That new language also protects them against Campbell’s lack of temerity, lack of common sense, and inability to deal well with crisis.
What rulebook was it that Bettman held up to the light when he determined that Hunter was committing crimes that could not be tolerated? Answer: Much the same rulebook that was in Campbell’s hands last spring.
This is no longer a matter of decisive moves not made, rulebooks in need of revision and clarity, e-mails that certify prejudices. This is about a league leadership’s conscience and its need to let owners, managers, players, media, and paying customers know that wrongs will be righted and all questions will be removed, with courage and with conviction.
That’s precisely how Bettman entered the game when hired on Feb. 1, 1993. If he’s the same guy who saw Hunter crush Turgeon and knew then, be it by instinct or astute study, that something had to be done, he has to know it now. If he’s not that same leader, then the owners who employ him had better know it.
But Scott Gordon, the former Boston College goaltender who was in his third year as coach, deserved better. His roster quality was poor, but his teams always played well, especially in puck pursuit and forecheck. Not an easy thing, to get a lackluster roster to pretend it actually has a prayer of making the playoffs and skate with pluck and attitude for six months.
Lack of confidence, said general manager Garth Snow in a press conference, was a killer for his club.
“We have to establish that swagger,’’ said the goalie-turned-GM.
Well, there’s nothing like talent to provide swagger, and the Islanders don’t have nearly enough ready-for-prime-time bodies. Now it’s up to ex-Maine defenseman Jack Capuano (Class of ’88) to shake some mojo from these wayward sailors. Capuano, by the way, suited up in the Spoked-B for two games in the 1991-92 season.
Meanwhile, the sad sack franchise pulled the credential of Chris Botta, its former top media relations employee, after he authored a critical blog on his “Islanders Point Blank’’ website in the wake of the Gordon sacking.
Such are the times we live in, folks. Clubs increasingly object and overreact to anything they wouldn’t deem vanilla enough to post on their own websites. Which is to say they believe, at their core, that their fan base is dumber than a bucket of doorknobs. Frightening. And worse by the day.
Are Leafs about to change? The Leafs finally showed a little bit of life last week with wins over Nashville (5-4) and the lowly Devils (3-1). Entering last night’s games, the Blue-and-White warriors, despite their woes the last three weeks, stood but 2 points from the No. 8 seed in the East. Nonetheless, GM Brian Burke was spotted last Sunday in Chicago, scouting the Blackhawks and Ducks, both of whom have been previous trading partners. The Leafs need a Marc Savard-like high-impact center to trigger their offense, although top prospect Nazem Kadri, called up in desperation, pitched in with a pair of assists against the Devils.
Executive pay The SportsBusiness Journal reported in July that Colin Campbell, the NHL senior executive vice president for hockey operations, earned $1.39 million, based on the league’s most recent tax filings (encompassing the 2008-09 season), ranking him No. 3 in total compensation among league administrators. Commissioner Gary Bettman tallied $7.23 million and Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner, $1.9 million.
Slick Oiler Oilers boss Steve Tambellini to USA Today on the mature game of No. 1 draft pick Taylor Hall: “He is so hungry. When you see him come out of the corner, sometimes you say, ‘That kid is 18?’ ’’ Hall, who would have been a Bruin if the Oil opted instead to make Tyler Seguin the No. 1 draft pick, is 3-5—8 and minus-9 through his first 18 games. He celebrated his 19th birthday last Sunday.
New kid in town Keep your eye out for the early leader in the Calder Trophy race with the Hurricanes in town for Friday’s matinee. Freshman forward Jeff Skinner, the No. 7 pick in the draft, thus far is the game’s rookie sensation. The 5-foot-10-inch pivot, who scored 50 goals in 64 games last season in Kitchener, headed into last night’s game 6-9—15 and a minus-5 in his first 19 games.
Loose pucks In a phenomenal display of genius, the Stars now make a habit of covering the club’s cherished logo on their dressing room floor, rather than have media members and other visitors mindlessly walk over it. Here in the Hub, where a large Spoked-B is in the center of the Bruins’ dressing room, players and team personnel constantly must remind reporters and media techs not to tread on the B. Colleague Dan Shaughnessy had steam pouring out his ears when he was admonished for such crimes by former equipment manager Mark Dumas. Novel concept, putting the family crest on the floor and expect that, you know, even civilized people won’t walk on it . . . A spare part in Montreal, Ryan O’Byrne, ex- of Cornell’s Big Red, has been plugged into the Colorado lineup as a key member of the back line since being dealt there Nov. 11 for prospect Michael Bournival. A big kid (6-5, 235), O’Byrne might be missed now that the Habs again are going to be without top blue liner Andrei Markov (knee injury), possibly for months . . . Bill Guerin, still deciding whether it’s time to retire, appeared last week as a guest panelist on “NHL Overtime,’’ the new Versus show that runs nightly, Monday through Thursday. The show’s host, Bill Patrick, twice referred to him as “recently retired Bill Guerin.’’ News to both the viewing audience and the guest. “OK, let’s get this straight,’’ Guerin said after Patrick’s second reference. “I’m not recently retired. Let’s just say I’m between jobs right now.’’
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.