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Boston brawl leaves NHL discipline czar in embarrassing spot

If it wasn't embarrassing, it was at least another extremely awkward moment for the NHL, vis-à-vis its Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell, and the involvement of his son, Gregory, in Thursday night's WWE-style game between Boston and Dallas.

It had to be awkward for Commissioner Gary Bettman to see his chief of discipline forced to recuse himself from meting out punishments for a game that had several fights -- three within the first four seconds -- and one cheap, blindside hit that earned its perpetrator a four-game suspension.

It had to be awkward for the NHL's VP of Hockey Operations, Mike Murphy, to have to assume Campbell's job for the day. It had to be awkward for Gregory Campbell to know that he'll again likely hear snickers around the league because his dad might have it in now for the Stars' Steve Ott -- who left Gregory's face a bloody mess in one of the game's opening bouts.

And it has to be awkward for the elder Campbell, who on the one hand wants to cultivate the game to a wider audience by taking the cheap stuff out, and on the other sees his son line up against Ott for the opening faceoff with the specific intent of trying to even an old score.

The fight between Campbell and Ott wasn't really the embarrassing part of the evening. Setting aside the age-old debate over fighting's place in the game, it was in the long tradition of one player wanting to settle a beef with hand-to-hand combat. Despite Campbell's face being left looking like it had been splashed with tomato soup, his "fighting like a man" against a bigger opponent no doubt earned him points in hockey's macho code system.

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What continues to be the proverbial elephant in the room is Campbell being responsible for disciplinary decisions in a league that includes a team with his son on it. The embarrassing e-mail disclosures last November, where Campbell was shown to have complained to director of officiating Stephen Walkom about, among other things, Boston's Marc Savard being a "little fake artist", opened Campbell up to charges of favoritism that won't ever go away as long as he remains in his post.

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The fact that Campbell did not suspend Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke for his atrocious blindside hit on Savard last season that caused the concussion that helped force the league to adopt Rule 48 that now subjects such hits to supplemental discipline.

Thursday night, just such a hit occurred again, as Boston's Daniel Paille flattened Raymond Sawada of Dallas. Campbell's job mandates that he make the call on how to punish Paille, but his son being on the Bruins forced him to hand off the responsibility to Murphy -- who has enough on his plate trying to run the NHL's video war room every night.

The fact that Gregory Campbell was front and center in the events that started the night's shenanigans meant that his father couldn't let his voice be heard.

Problem is, the whole league was talking about Thursday's game -- especially the Paille hit. For Campbell not to have any role or say in the matter (that we know of; and he declined our request for comment) was another brick in the wall of the embarrassment surrounding his job.

Colin Campbell is well-liked and respected by hockey people, and his is a thankless, no-win job. You wonder why he's still doing it after all these years.

No doubt the money is good -- but at what price a man's, and a sport's, integrity?

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