As one referee said today, "I can't believe it took so long for this to come out."
So, kudos to Tyler Dellow, the Oilers fan and blogger who uncovered the fact that NHL vice-president and head disciplinarian Colin Campbell violated the doctrine of impartiality on several penalty calls against his son. While some were quick to rip another "blogger in the basement," that does not accurately describe this Toronto-based lawyer.
The key thing to note here is that the emails in question were exchanged three years ago. On March 29, 2009, Steve Ott nearly decapitated Colin's son, Gregory Campbell. Ott, a repeat offender, was given no suspension.
However, Dave Newell, who spent 40 years in the NHL as a referee and war-room official, said Monday, "You're asking me if personal relationships ever affected suspensions, or lack thereof? My answer is yes."
Pressed for an example, Newell laughed and said, "I'm not going to go there right now...saving it for my book." (Newell is writing a tell-all along the lines of Jim Bouton's historic Ball Four. No word on if he compared notes with Kerry Fraser, who has his own book out now.)
To his credit, Newell admitted he is bitter about his own dismissal. He testified against the league in the Dean Warren hearing where Campbell's emails were entered into evidence. You can read more about the hearing on Dellow's website. (As an aside, I cannot believe how many officials who spent decades in the NHL are leaving angry. I don't know who's at fault, but it's a real shame and should be addressed - by both sides.)
The most unfortunate victim in all of this is undoubtedly Gregory Campbell, embroiled in controversy through no fault of his own. Another referee said today that, before working his games, they used to joke with each other, "Better not disallow any of his goals."
When I followed up by asking if officials seriously felt any pressure to handle Gregory differently, he said no. He also said he'd never heard of any referee ever being questioned about any call against the younger Campbell. And this is someone who does not like Colin at all.
Says another referee: "Colin Campbell isn't the best boss I've ever had ... but to accuse him of bias? No. I won't go there."
I don't believe for a second Matt Cooke wasn't suspended for his hit on Marc Savard (even though he should have been) because Campbell doesn't like Savard. Campbell doesn't like Cooke, either. I'm also certain Campbell doesn't like Patrick Kaleta, who has been suspended once despite several incidents. As for bias in favour of the Panthers, don't forget Mike Richards was not disciplined for his head hit to David Booth.
Despite that, Campbell's emails - even though they are three years old - have created the perception of conflict of interest. In almost any field, that is verboten. Yes, Campbell recuses himself whenever a situation involving Gregory's team comes up, but, as one source said, "This one is tough. If the perception is there, how do you defend that?"
Campbell has the NHL's toughest - and arguably, worst - job. Only the officials are anywhere close. Yes, his rulings are maddeningly inconsistent. Everyone wants tough suspensions, or a crackdown on hits to the head - until it affects their team. But that's why you have to be above reproach.
He is a polarizing figure. People who like him will defend him without question. People who don't criticize him mercilessly. He learned a hard lesson here. Be careful what you write. He wasn't, and, as a result, he's put his objectivity into question - even if the evidence suggests otherwise.
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