A few days have passed since Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey.com posted the contents of emails between NHL Senior Vice President Colin Campbell and then-Director of NHL Officials Stephen Walkom that he came across while perusing now-public records from a court case brought about by the firing of referee Dean Warren. In that time, we've seen the immediate knee-jerk reaction, the counter-reaction, and finally the analysis on both from each side.
So what's come out of all of this?
The league has circled the wagons again to protect a member of the untouchable Old Boys' Club. Campbell and Daly have each weighed in with Daly coming to Campbell's defense, saying that the suggestion that Colin Campbell performs his duty with anything less than 100% integrity is factually wrong. Campbell himself called it "Much ado about nothing", blowing off the entirety of the controversy by stating, in his relationship with Walkom, the two knew about which things Campbell was merely venting and which things Campbell was outright directing
By-and-large, early fan reaction was that Colin Campbell should absolutely be fired for the tone of the emails and for the implication that he lets personal feelings get in the way of his job, then transitioning to the broader statement that this is just another in a long line of things for which Campbell should be fired. While the response from the league is not surprising, it's somewhat disheartening to those who believe that Campbell's removal would be a positive step forward for the league in dealing with two incredibly contentious issues: refereeing standards and supplemental discipline practices. Let's face it, before the new email scandal broke, NHL fans already had at best wavering trust in the league's ability to correctly enforce their own rules, both on and off the ice.
But then, in steps TSN's Bob McKenzie as a writer for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect. McKenzie is one of the few that are in deep enough with the league to get the trusted kind of insider info without being a self-interested independent media huckster. Unfortunately, what Bob has to say is not promising.
Join us after the jump for more.
First off, head on over to TSN.CA to read the full article. McKenzie starts us off talking about how the cries to remove Campbell are nothing new, but then he hits us with this brick:
The truth is there is this incredibly huge, and growing by leaps and bounds every day, disconnect between how hockey fans and media view crime and punishment in the NHL and how the league and those who comprise it -- the 30 owners, the 30 GMs, the 30 head coaches, the 700-plus players who play the game, the NHL head office executives led by commissioner Gary Bettman and, finally, the NHL Players Association -- deal with it.
That one hurts. We have to "deal with it" when the league goes too lightly on the dangerous hits. McKenzie, like he always does, makes some excellent points in the piece about how nobody on the inside of the game (as opposed to we fans, the outsiders) want the league to lean more heavily on the whipping stick when it comes to discipline. It costs the players money they don't want to lose, the coaches lineup headaches with which they don't want to deal, the GMs roster problems about which they don't want to think, and the owners dollars which they're throwing down the drain on a salary when there's no return. Of course, the last statement is the most frightening because not only does it make a lot of sense, but it also makes it an easy conclusion that the owners don't want all players treated equally by the league, which is already an issue about which we, the outsiders, worry.
McKenzie moves on to explain that Campbell is so deeply entrenched with the Old Boys' Club because his integrity in the room is not a question; that the "culture" of their club knows that it's ok to send these kinds of emails within the circle, because everybody knows that at the end of the day, Campbell will make a suspension call based on what he thinks is for the good of the game and not because of personal like or dislike for any particular team, player, or GM. While Campbell's dubious record with suspension may mean the reality of the situation is not in line with what the Old Boys' Club thinks, McKenzie's not wrong because he's speaking to the culture and not the practice.
What hurts here is Bob's defeatist tone to the whole article. Take this:
Face it, Colin Campbell could be deep-sixed tomorrow in his job as league disciplinarian, but do you really think anything would change? Fans and media could prance about and sing, 'Ding Dong, the witch is dead,' but the next guy would come in and it would be, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. No one in fandom or the media world liked the job Brian Burke was doing when he left the dean of discipline's office and no one likes the job Campbell is doing now. Do you honestly think the next guy who takes the chair is going to turn things upside down?
The NHL is, at its very core, tribal and, at times, savage. While we in the media and the fans most certainly play a part in its theatre, we aren't full-fledged members of the tribe and never will be, nor do many necessarily aspire to be. That said, we still all push our collective noses up against the glass, bang our fists and demand to be heard on issues we think matter and on very rare occasions it sometimes occurs. But on this overall issue of crime and punishment in the NHL, the league's equivalent of tribal council if you will, there's a way the NHL has always done business and a way how they apparently intend to continue doing business and we can all bray as loudly and as long as we like, but we saw this week with 'Colie-mail' how quickly the wagons get circled.
It's not about one man, it never has been. It's about The Game, those who run it, those who play it and how they govern it. They do, we (media and fans) don't. That's just the way it is.
So that's it. They run the league and we don't. The fans should maybe stop complaining because we're the outsiders who are lucky enough to pay the salaries of these guys, the true stewards of the integrity of hockey. From the tone here, we're left to accept that the NHL is run the way it is or we're welcome to find another favorite pastime.
I say hell no.
This sport belongs to everybody. Bob doesn't outright say that we should all just learn to accept this crap, but he damn well sure implies it with the tone. The minute the fans stop railing against the things they find unfair and quietly accept everything as gospel from the league is the minute that it falls apart. Money is a powerful motivator and if most of the people in power can manipulate the purity of the sport to squeeze the maximum amount of cash out of it, they absolutely will. While there's never going to be a consensus about pretty much anything from the fans, the discussion is what keeps hockey alive as a sport instead of something in the relatively new category of "sports entertainment." To stop complaining and accept league rule is to confirm to those running things that what they do in these situations is acceptable and that, good sirs, is indeed the biggest injustice that could come from this.
However, McKenzie is right about how it's not about one man and it never will be. Personally, I buy the stuff about Colin Campbell being a guy that the Old Boys can trust to have in their club. Perhaps Campbell doesn't need to be fired because, after all, you'd only be removing one man. Instead, how about we talk pulling the job out from under him? There's a lot of talk out there among fans that perhaps it's time to take a look at why league discipline is limited to one man's integrity or biases. Campbell can keep his position, but he should lose his job as the one and only person who gets to decide on the fate of players in regards to supplemental discipline.
If that job is handled by one man who is looking out for the interests of the league and, as I said above, the league's primary interest is making money, then how can we, the outsiders trust that these decisions are made in good faith? Perhaps the importance of treating each NHL player as equal is too difficult a job for a man who has to hear constantly from GMs about how their players are the most equal guys in the whole league. I personally would propose moving the responsibility of supplemental discipline to a three-person committee made up of a league representative, an NHLPA representative, and an NHLOA representative. You wouldn't be removing bias from the situation here, you would just hope that the biases for the three main organizations responsible for the sanctity of our game would help balance out.
Of course, when you tie this into the consideration that Campbell is also in charge of dealing with the Director of Officiating and look at the inconsistency in the way the game is called, perhaps Campbell's job with the Old Boys should be completely re-evaluated. I have no doubt that he knows the culture and he knows the game inside-and-out, but when he's sat at the helm of the two biggest problems most fans have with the sport, it's time to assess what kind of value his experience truly brings. If the league does end up taking the sane advice to make supplemental discipline the responsibility of a balanced committee, this would be the second large change they've had to make in response to things that Colin Campbell could not get right in the first place (the first being the introduction of Rule 48 about blind side headshots, of course). Do his well-rubbed elbows more than make up for the amount of people he's rubbed the wrong way?
If Bob really believes that removing Campbell won't change the way the SVP dishes out punishment, then maybe it's time for us as fans to challenge the system, not the individual.