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The Cat's in the Cradle with the Wheel of Justice - Colin Campbell and the NHL

There's a major storm brewing in the NHL these days, and it's not the fact that Sean Avery is still a giant tool. Last night, Tyler Dellow at MC79Hockey posted an article lambasting Colin Campbell and the way he utilizes his position as the NHL's head disciplinarian. Tyler posted emails between Campbell and Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom wherein Campbell takes issue with former referee Dean Warren. Warren had filed a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board related to his termination, and these emails were part of the evidence submitted to prove his case. As Dellow pointed out, the case itself is very run-of-the-mill, but the juicy parts are the emails that show Campbell to be very up front about his opinions regarding officiating as well as some perceived nepotism in favor of his son, Greg Campbell. This has the potential to be a very big problem for the NHL. Follow me after the jump for more.

I do not think it's a stretch to say that most of us believe there is something amiss in the way officiating and discipline are handled in the NHL. Whether you believe that's due to consistent incompetence or outright corruption, there is a strong belief among fans that the NHL is not a well-run organization. We've been conditioned to believe that the league has the players' best interests at heart all while ensuring they maintain an entertaining product on the ice. However, these emails clearly show that there is something seriously wrong with the leadership at NHL headquarters, and it's very troubling to me to see how high this goes. 

Basically, according to the emails, Campbell disagreed with a few calls purportedly on his son, Greg Campbell, and called Marc Savard a "fake artist". Dellow goes on to say that there may be no coincidence that no suspension was levied against Matt Cooke after he took out Savard with a head shot, although he does point out that the NHL did institute the "head shot rule" following that incident. While names have been removed from the emails, Dellow did some excellent digging and was able to come up with games and players that were likely the cause of the emails themselves. In one instance, Campbell rails against a high-sticking call made against his son on Savard, and noted that he had problems with Savard when in New York as part of the Rangers organization.

There are several issues at play here, all of which are going to hurt the NHL without a swift and appropriate response. The first and most obvious one is the glaring nepotism that Colin Campbell seems to show towards his son, Greg. Dellow was able to show two instances where emails to Walkom immediately followed games in which Greg was penalized, including one that was apparently not televised but where the radio announcers said it was a bad call. Now, since all announcers are objective (right, Lambert?) there's no question that this was obviously the wrong call and Campbell was just sticking up for his son. But what I can't get over is the blatant use of his official email to the Director of Officiating to complain about calls against his son, especially in light of any visual evidence to support his position.

The other big issue here is Campbell calling out Savard as a "fake artist", especially in light of the lack of a suspension on the Cooke hit. Now, I'm not going to say that Campbell can't have opinions about players, coaches and referees; he's human after all. What I do have a concern with is having those opinions influence his decisions when it comes to disciplining players and enforcing rules. We've all laughed at the idea of the Wheel of Justice, but one has to wonder whether such a thing actually exists on the back of Campbell's door, right next to a picture of Marc Savard with dart holes in it.

One thing we as fans want is accountability from and trust in the executives and officials of our sports leagues. We also want to ensure that there is objectivity when it comes to decisions that will affect our teams and our favourite players. Stories like this cause us to question the integrity of the executives, men and women that are responsible for growing the sport we love so much. The fact that Campbell would engage in this type of behaviour really causes me to wonder how long this has been going on; let's not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about one specific referee and a few isolated incidents in a small window. How many more of these emails exist? How many times has Campbell railed against a call or perceived slight by another referee? Has he ever indirectly caused the outcome of a game by ensuring that a certain official works a game played in by a specific team? *cough*Watson*cough*Red Wings*cough* I also am concerned with the way Walkom responded to all of the emails, as if this was no big deal. It makes me believe that we might have a trickle-down effect from the top all the way to the on-ice officials. The ramifications of this story, if proven to be true, are huge. One can't help but think that this has the potential to be as big as the Tim Donaghy scandal in the NBA.

That is my biggest fear: that the NHL truly is corrupt and the outcomes are, at least on some level, pre-determined or desired by the executives. I'm not normally a conspiracy theorist: in all honesty, I don't believe that something like that could be kept under wraps for so long, not in this age of internet reporting and bloggers digging for truth. I've often thought that the NHL is run by people who were more incompetent than corrupt, but information like this makes me wonder if that's true. I love this sport more than any other, and I want my daughters to grow up with the same love and appreciation for hockey that was passed down to me by my parents. How am I supposed to do that when a growing part of me believes that the NHL may turn out as "real" as wrestling? I hope that this was an isolated incident, and as a parent, I can understand why Campbell would desire to protect his son. However, he's part of something much bigger than one player, and he owes it to the rest of the executives, the players and the fans to ensure that he remains impartial when doling out justice. Otherwise, a sport that relies heavily on fan support will suffer when those same fans do not believe they are watching something genuine.