November 15, 2010
Tyler Dellow's report on Colin Campbell and his candid emails broke big this morning on blogs and sports talk radio to the point where the NHL had to address it. The League chose TSN as its forum this afternoon.
The message they've crafted? From Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner: "Any suggestion that Colin Campbell performs his job with any less than 100% integrity at all times and in every decision he makes is way off base and just factually wrong."
Then there was the following statement from Campbell to TSN, regarding emails between him and then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom that involved penalties assessed to Campbell's son, NHL forward Gregory Campbell(notes) (who, by the way, had a Bruins PR gag on him today):
"For me, it's much ado about nothing. Stephen and I would have banter back and forth and Stephen knows I'm a (hockey) dad venting and both of us knowing it wouldn't go any further than that. Stephen would laugh at me. The game in question (when Gregory Campbell was penalized late in the Atlanta-Florida game) wasn't on TV and I was asking Stephen to find out for me if it was a soft call. That's all there ever was to it. The (refs) working that game are still in the league, aren't they? Stephen handled the officials, just like Terry Gregson does now, and I've got a lot of emails to those guys asking about this soft call or that soft call and that's in a lot of games. I'm not ultimately responsible for the (on-ice) officials, that's Terry Gregson's responsibility, but I have to answer to GMs on these calls."
We had a very healthy debate about this Campbell controversy on Puck Daddy Radio today. I believe those holding up emails that deal with his son and malign the reputation of Marc Savard(notes) of the Boston Bruins as a smoking gun that Campbell's been unfair to him are, ironically, being unfair to Colin Campbell.
At least, to a point.
We don't have evidence that his personal feelings on Marc Savard (oddly not addressed in the TSN statement) contributed to any action taken (or not taken) in cases with which Savard's been involved. All we have is admission of personal bias against the player in the mid-1990s as a coach, reaffirmed a decade later as an executive. We're free to draw our own conclusions based on this, but it's not a WikiLeaks-like revelation of wrongdoing.
On the matter of Gregory Campbell ... sorry, Colin, but "just a hockey dad venting" doesn't fly.
Having a father whose son is an active player in the NHL, in the role Campbell plays for the League, is a conflict of interest, no matter how many fail-safes and filters are put in place to keep him from direct rulings on Gregory Campbell, his team or their opponent.
Take it to a micro-level: How cool would we all be if Bill McCreary was officiating a Rangers-against-anyone-but-Philly game, knowing his son plays for the Flyers? Would he be allowed to officiate in the Atlantic Division? The Eastern Conference? We can't prove bias. We can't prove unprofessionalism. But that doesn't mean the accusations don't linger due to that conflict of interest.
Colin Campbell is a good man. He's got integrity, as anyone in the NHL will be first to tell you. We've given him the benefit of the doubt that having his son in the NHL wouldn't lead to questions about that integrity, but they've been raised, perhaps irreversibly, by these emails.
You can't tell the fans and media that Gregory Campbell is persona non grata in your role as NHL VP of hockey operations and then inquire about penalties he's been given with an email to the director of officiating. You're saying one thing, doing another, and "just a hockey dad venting" doesn't absolve that; if he's off-limits then he's off-limits.
Again: These emails shouldn't be a reason for Campbell to step down, as it's obvious from the NHL's push-back on TSN and through back-channels that he's not going anywhere.
The state of the NHL's supplemental discipline system is, and has been, reason enough.