April 18, 2010

It's time to discipline Colin Campbell

By Kevin Dupont

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Colin Campbell (photo: Getty)

You can have Colin Campbell's job, which, as we know all too well in the Hub of Hockey, is informally known as director of discipline in the NHL.

Formally, he's the senior VP of Hockey Operations, just in case you're crafting a cover letter and attaching it to your resume before firing it off to NHL HQs, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y.

Campbell not only has the worst job in hockey, but he also is pretty bad at doing a bad job.

Two cases in point: his permissive, see-no-evil stance on the menacing hits delivered to David Booth and Marc Savard this season. In both instances, Campbell allowed the miscreants (Mike Richards and Matt Cooke) to skate free, and the only good to come of it was that it forced the league's 30 general managers finally to come to grips with language in the rulebook pertaining to headshots.

Only days after Savard was lugged out on a stretcher, his season likely finished after Cooke's blindside hit, the GMs cobbled together a proposed rule change to take blindside and backside hits to the head out of the game.

Hey, novel idea to protect the working help, isn't it? And to think, it only took the league the better part of century to get around to figuring out that brains can't be fair game.

Bad look, broken bodies and addled gray matter strapped to stabilizing stretchers and lugged out of rinks. In a span of some 30 months, Bruins fans watched both Patrice Bergeron and Savard each end their workday in similar style, frightening sights that would give any parent pause about entering a son or daughter in even so much as a rec league.

Campbell, a decent guy who, in many ways, only reflects the owners' wishes, repeatedly said that he was handcuffed when it came time to consider supplemental discipline for either Richards or Cooke. The rulebook, he said, simply didn't contain language that allowed him to sit players out for hits to the head, even if targeted, if they were delivered via a shoulder check.

Count me confused, because replays of Cooke's hit on Savard showed Cooke cocking his left arm and smoking the unsuspecting Savard in a clear drive-by beatdown. Elbow? Well, he led with his elbow, and it's hard to tell the exact point of contact, but ultimately Campbell felt it was all vague enough to shrug his shoulders and wait for the GMs' new rule to kick in -- be it later this season or at the start of 2009-10.

Anyone remember Milan Lucic getting suspended a year ago, in Round 1 of the playoffs, for whacking Montreal's Maxim Lapierre in the kisser? Lucic, standing still, had a conversation going with another Hab and smacked Lapierre for attempting to butt in on his conversation. Campbell said then that he could not tell if it was Lucic's stick or a glove that made contact with the wounded, smack-talking Hab.

''What is clear,'' noted Campbell at the time, ''is that he delivered a reckless and forceful blow to the head of his opponent.''

And for that reckless and forceful behavior, Campbell sat out Lucic for Game 3 of the first-round playoff series.

What is clear, from watching the hits on Booth and Savard, is that they, too, were reckless and forceful blows -- just not forceful enough to merit supplemental discipline. Still, Lapierre did not miss a game, while Booth needed 45 games on the sidelines to recover from his concussion and Savard -- also concussed -- didn't figure he would recover (maybe) until next season.

In the spring of 2008, Campbell found language in the rulebook to deal with Sean Avery's, shall we say, creative stick work in and around Martin Brodeur's goalie crease. Avery waved the stick directly and repeatedly in Brodeur's face, tantamount to filling St. Martin's cage with a pile of shaving foam.

The rulebook didn't contain the precise language necessary for Campbell to deal with such, uh, creativity, but he found enough latitude in the definition of ''unsportsmanlike conduct'' to change the rulebook overnight. Use of the stick, Avery-style, became a minor penalty.

We could go on here forever and a day, but the point is, Campbell needed to step up and be creative with his rulebook interpretation when Booth was victimized. When he compounded that error in the Savard case, it highlighted the fact that Campbell has been too long on the job.

It's time for the league to get a new director of discipline, and also time to revamp the entire supplemental disciplinary process. Decisions like these should be made by a three-man board, including one league representative, another from the Players' Association and a third party of their mutual choice.  

Players are getting hurt, badly, on the ice. It’s time for the league office to stop compounding the injuries.

Numbers game

For all the bellyaching around here about Tim Thomas and the “off'' year he has had with the Bruins, his numbers in late March were pretty much on par with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (he who wears the Olympic gold medal). 

Thomas had a 2.57 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts. Luongo stood at 2.45, .915 and four shutouts.  

Lack of goal support had Thomas with a 15-17-8 record, compared to Luongo's 36-19-2.

Baptisms by fire

Not sure what it means, but it's possible that seven of the 16 teams to qualify for the playoffs this season will start goalies who don't have one minute of postseason experience. 

Out west, that could include former Maine star Jimmy Howard (Detroit), Craig Anderson (Colorado), Hamden, Conn., native Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles) and Pekka Rinne (Nashville).

In the east, it could be Tuukka Rask (Boston), Michael Leighton (Philadelphia) and either Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire (Ottawa). 

Not long ago, clubs never entertained the thought of going with a rookie 'tender. Now it could be upwards of nearly half the clubs going with newbies -- at a time when goaltending remains, as always, the most critical position on the ice.

Long in the tooth

The Leafs got a late nod from Tomas Kaberle to try to deal him at the March 3 trading deadline but GM Brian Burke (Providence, R.I.) couldn't work an effective swap for the Czech defenseman.

Kaberle's no-trade clause vanishes for six weeks this summer, leading up to Aug. 15, and it's a good bet Burke will ship him out. That said, Kaberle was impressive this season, in part because the Leafs added some muscle around him.

Burke, going into 2009-10, said he was eager to see Kaberle perform ''when he's not picking his teeth out of the glass all night.'' With but a dozen games left in the season, Kaberle had six goals and 47 points in 70 games.

Proof, again, that flossing is critical.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com