Colin Campbell Running Out of Ways to Show He Doesn’t Get It


Matt Cooke is responsible fore a small percentage of the dirty plays which have received schizophrenic punishments from Colin Campbell and league officials this season (photo Dan4th@flickr)

If you’re under siege because people don’t think you’re doing your job the right way, complaining about it publicly isn’t the best way to clear up any possible misconceptions.

If anything,  it’s the best way to enforce them.

So when NHL VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell expressed his frustrations on TSN Radio 1050 Thursday, gestures of sympathy must have been few and far between.

“Thankless job? Yeah, it’s thankless,” Campbell said during the interview, according to ESPN. “Especially at this time of year when there’s so much at play here with the playoffs and cities are involved. When you rule on certain situations, all of a sudden you become public enemy number one so … Am I pissed off right now? Yeah, I’m pissed off.”

Campbell’s comments were directed at criticism that a free pass was handed to Vancouver Canucks forward Raffi Torres for a game three incident in which Torres hit Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook from the blindside behind the Chicago net.

Video replays clearly show Torres’ elbow made contact with Seabrook’s head on the play. Chicago’s number two defenseman, Seabrook left the game and has missed games four and five since.

“You think I want to do the popular thing here?” Campbell said. “I don’t get paid to do the popular thing. I don’t get paid to do the easy thing to do.”

The Seabrook hit happened in Torres’ first game back after serving a four-game suspension for delivering an elbow to the head of Edmonton rookie Jordan Eberle late in the regular season.

The explanation for the legality of Torres’ hit related to Seabrook’s position on the ice. Definitions of what is legal and what isn’t are murky enough to begin with.

For Campbell, plenty of literature has been issued on the matter.

“I don’t make up this stuff as I go along,” Campbell said. “We do lots of work on this. We send out lots of videos.”

Perhaps what players need – more than free VHS tapes – are clear and rigid standards as to what constitutes acceptable hockey.

The issue of head shots and the schizophrenic discipline which results has haunted the league for two straight seasons, and the problems are apparently served in concentrated form during the playoffs.

The list of questionable plays – including offenses from Chris Kunitz, Jarkko Ruutu, Steve Downie, Raffi Torres, Alex Edler, Mike Richards, Bobby Ryan and Tyler Kennedy, with a few likely omitted – is incredible. Only one series has reached game five, but the number of incidents is already stretching toward double digits.

Can anyone blame the players? Partially, yes. But they have plenty to be confused about.

Chris Kunitz showed us that direct contact with an elbow is worth one game, unless you’re Matt Cooke (then it’s more than 15). Steve Downie showed us that flagrant charging is worth twenty games, until it happens in the playoffs (then it’s only one).

Mike Richards showed us that elbows are okay, as long as the recipient is skating towards you (and you think he was probably going to do something bad unless you elbowed him).

Elsewhere, Bobby Ryan showed us that a stomp of the skate blade is worth two games, but not if you’re Chris Simon and your team is out of the playoffs (then its 25). Raffi Torres showed us that an elbow to the head is four games, depending on where you are on the ice  — it could be nothing!

Is the hyperbole beginning to make your head spin?

Imagine how players must feel when they are given split-seconds to decide whether to make a hit that could result in a suspension of two games. Or twenty. Or none.

The NFL came under heavy fire for instituting a no-tolerance headshot policy in the middle of the 2010 season. Despite the swirling criticism, players began backing off of the slobberknocker collisions — sometimes visibly — and injuries due to cheap shots quietly went away.

Steve Downie received a 20-game suspension for a flying charge as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He received only one game for a similar hit Monday (dinur@flickr)

The move was made to protect players from receiving devastating head injuries.

The NHL, led by Campbell, has refused to institute a blanket headshot rule like the policy enforced by the Ontario Hockey League.

While the OHL benefits from having its stars on the ice, the NHL is sending out signals that decapitating a star player is still okay, as long as the hit meets a list of very specific and mysterious criteria.

The clearest evidence that something needs to be done might be that the NHL is enduring a postseason with its best player in the quiet room.

Campbell will have none of it.

“You guys are crazy when you say that,” Campbell said in regards to David Steckel’s hit on Sidney Crosby. “What do you want to do to the game? You’re nuts.”

“There are some hits out there that we don’t like, but come on, you guys. You can’t say that was dirty, you guys. …You can’t say that hit was dirty, or you guys don’t watch hockey.”

The defensive posturing is clear that Campbell just does not get it. Any official genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of the players would point to the rash of injuries as unacceptable.

The Steckel hit might have been incidental. They all might have been incidental.

That’s not the issue.

Players are hurt, yet those in charge of enforcing player safety are spending more time lamenting the praise their work doesn’t receive, rather than lamenting the fact that cheap shots have continued unabated in the absence of any meaningful or consistent discipline.

The defense of one’s own record ought to be a far cry less important than protecting the league’s biggest investments, its players. If the rest of Toronto would echo Campbell’s sentiments, the concern for player safety might really be worth nothing more than a few free tapes.

“I’ve got a responsibility to try and protect players from other players in the game of hockey but yet keep the physicality in the game. To keep jobs like your jobs, everyone’s jobs,” Campbell said. “The game supplies a lot of jobs.”

Perhaps Colin Campbell should worry less about keeping radio hosts and concessions staff at work and more about protecting the league’s players, so that they may safely continue doing their jobs, too.

James Conley

James Conley

James was a Penguins contributor at THW and SB Nation Pensburgh and owns the Pittsburgh sports blog Slew Footers.

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