I've probably complained as much as anyone, about the total lack of consistency in assessing fines and suspensions for serious physical infractions on the ice. I have a bit more respect and empathy for Colin Campbell, now, after reading this article.
It really is a conundrum, with no easy answer. Hitting is a part of hockey, and people sometimes get hurt. The rules only protect you so far. At any time, a promising youngster or a superstar, even, can be taken out for a season or a career by a vicious hit that may even have been totally legal. It's just like football, in that regard. You take your life in your hands out there, and you sacrifice a series of body-parts, over the course of a career. If you're lucky, you escape with a few bucks in the bank, a job after hockey-playing is over for you, and your brains not scrambled too badly.
So, what do you do, if you can't judge intent accurately? My only suggestion, is that you base the penalties assessed on the extent of the damages inflicted, to some degree. You also have to put the brakes on the repeat offenders. It's not going to be easy to change what's going on, without changing the game significantly.
Gauging intent is tough for hockey's police chief
November 30, 2007
As the czar of discipline, NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell has one of the most difficult jobs in all of hockey.
From his office in Toronto, his role is to police 700 players on 30 teams.
It is, of course, an impossible task. The only people who can police the players are the players themselves.
When they can't, Campbell is there to mete out supplementary discipline.
Before the season even started, Campbell turned heads when he suspended Flyers rookie Steve Downie 20 games for his flying shoulder check to the head of Senators forward Dean McAmmond.
The message was loud and very clear: Shots to the head will not be tolerated.
A few weeks later, when Flyers enforcer Jesse Boulerice cross-checked Canucks forward Ryan Kesler in the face -- breaking his stick but not Kesler's jaw -- Campbell reinforced his first suspension with a 25-game sentence.
Again, message sent.
(It is worth noting that McAmmond missed 10 games after Downie's hit and that Kesler returned the next game after Boulerice's cross-check, facts Campbell could not have known at the time he issued the suspensions).
Since those initial suspensions totaling 45 games, Campbell has gone soft and many wonder why.
In Boston there was outrage after Campbell issued a two-game suspension to Flyers defenseman Randy Jones for checking Bruins star Patrice Bergeron headfirst into the glass, breaking his nose and possibly ending the young star's season.
The Bruins believed Jones' two-game wrist slap didn't come close to fitting the crime, especially when measured against the possibility of losing their second-leading scorer from last season for the entire season.
A few weeks after hearing an earful from the Bruins, Campbell was forced to watch a tape of Canucks defenseman Mattias Ohlund getting elbowed in the head by Wild forward Mikko Koivu, then retaliating by chopping Koivu with a two-hander to the leg.
The result? A broken fibula for Koivu; a four-game suspension for Ohlund.
Oh, yes. And outrage from the folks in Minnesota.
"I don't know why someone swings their stick like a baseball bat from the shoulders down and hits someone on the back of the leg," Wild coach Doug Risebrough said.
"That was awful, just a straight-up, home run he was trying to hit with his ankle there," Wild winger Mark Parrish said. "It was pretty brutal."
The morning after the incident Campbell could not have known whether Koivu would miss the rest of the season or the rest of the month. It turns out his fracture was non-displaced and he could be back in the lineup in early December.
Early this week, Campbell was back on a conference call, this time trying to decide how long to suspend Flyers forward Scott Hartnell for driving the head of Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts into the dasher boards seconds after Alberts dropped to his knees to control a bouncing puck.
Campbell again went light on the punishment with a two-game suspension for Hartnell, saying he showed some restraint by trying to stop before hitting Alberts, who is being listed as day-to-day with head injuries.
Flying shoulder check to the head: 20 games for violator; 10 games for victim.
Cross-check to the jaw: 25 games for violator; no games for victim.
Checking a player from behind into the boards: 2 games for violator; possibly 72 games for victim.
Baseball-style tomahawk to the leg: 4 games for violator; 7-10 games for victim.
Driving a player's head into the boards: 2 games for violator; day-to-day for victim.
In his rulings, it is clear Campbell places a player's intent to injure far above the severity of a player's injury. But what some players wonder is this: What if a player intentionally tries to hurt an opponent, but fails?
"I've seen guys literally try to kill guys out there and fail," Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said, "and they don't even get a two-minute penalty. I've seen legitimate accidents and guys get 10 or 15 games. I think they should look at the intent of the players."
In other words, to be a good chief of police in the NHL, you need to be a pretty good mind reader.
Chuck Gormley covers the NHL for the South Jersey Courier-Post. He is a regular contributor to Sporting News.