Former referee Dean Warren's opinion on Colin Campbell or the NHL can't be separated from their bitter dispute over his firing in April 2008. His opinions and his recollections have to be taken within that context.
That case, heard before the Ontario Labor Relations Board, was what gave the world the infamous Colin Campbell Emails published in the Toronto Star and then dissected by blogger Tyler Dellow on MC79Hockey.com.
Dellow connected Campbell's comments about specific NHL games to penalties called on his son Gregory Campbell(notes), now with the Boston Bruins, creating a controversy over Campbell's long-standing insistence that he remains out of disciplinary situations involving his son. Campbell downplayed the conflict of interest as a "hockey dad venting" in emails to then-NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom.
Perhaps then it's Walkom who doesn't understand the nuance between an interested parent's venting and an NHL VP of hockey operations exerting influence. Because Warren went on FAN 590 in Toronto Tuesday afternoon and provided anecdotal evidence that Campbell's complaints about his son's games were trickling down to the on-ice officials via the NHL's head of officiating.
"There was a number of situations. I recall one specifically when I'd called a penalty late in the game against Florida. Stephen Walkom was the director of officiating at the time and he called me the next day saying, 'You know Dean, Mr. Campbell doesn't think it's a penalty.' I said, well, the guy ran him down from behind. The player got hit, went head-first into the boards. I don't know you can't call the penalty. As a matter of fact, I kind of wondered [about] a game misconduct as well as the penalty.
"Stephen Walkom said, 'Look, if I gotta listen to Colin Campbell anymore I'm going to slit my own wrists.' That kinda gives you an indication of ... Mr. Campbell was certainly ruling or making decisions on games involving Florida and his son's team."
He said the refs didn't necessarily give Gregory Campbell leeway, but couldn't speak for all officials: "Did you help out your boss' kid a little bit? I don't know."
Warren said he didn't want to see Campbell lose his job, joining an increasing number of hockey observers that acknowledge Campbell's mistakes but don't feel they should lead to his dismissal as NHL discipline czar.
Scant hours after 'Colie-mail' broke, the NHL issued what can only be described as a supreme vote of confidence in Campbell.
There was nary a negative word spoken publicly by anyone directly involved in the game. And Campbell's own in-box filled with emails from "hockey people" telling him to hang in there.
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.
I think Campbell should know better than to involve his son Gregory in any form or capacity in any league business or communication. In my book, there's no excuse for that. Zero. And believe me, Campbell knows that and will never, ever make that mistake again. He's also been a lot more careful with e-mails since the Warren hearing.
But as for Campbell's character, I've known him for a long time and sometimes "Collie-speak" confuses those who don't speak it. He's a quirky man. While I don't always agree with his reasoning or his decision-making on league discipline, I know him to be an objective person who cares about the game a great deal. Perhaps the most telling thing is that there are 30 GMs who vouch for him and those are the same guys who get angry at some of his discipline decisions. But I suspect no matter what the truth is, Monday's buzz about those three-year-old e-mails will forever haunt Campbell.
Imagine how different the response would have been from fans and media if Campbell had simply come out Monday night and said, "I crossed the line three years ago and I've learned from my mistakes"?