Friday November 19th, 2010

Colin Campbell claims his hockey operations department is transparent, but fans and media see it differently. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Stu Hackel

The NHL went on a big PR offensive yesterday in the "Colie-mail" matter, three days after the story broke. What was their hurry?

First, Gary Bettman went on his weekly radio program (audio) and, sounding like he was at times reading from a prepared text, acknowledged that -- from a perception standpoint, no doubt -- "it looks bad," but the reality is different and Colin Campbell has never done anything inappropriate.

Bettman expressed his "full support" for his VP of Hockey Operations, saying those who accuse  Campbell of bias "have not had the opportunity to observe Colie's professionalism and integrity....He takes his service to the game, the teams and the players as seriously as any human being can and he is somebody of the utmost integrity, and that's the way people around the league view him."

Regardless of the public's perception that there might be a conflict of interest or some bias as a result of those e-mails, Bettman said, "There's no basis to suggest that anything wrong, unfair, biased was ever done, because nothing inappropriate has happened with respect to supplemental discipline or any of his other duties." He added the clubs -- who "would never accept anything less than fair, unbiased treatment" -- have expressed unsolicited overwhelming support for Campbell.

Bettman didn't say unanimous, however.

It's worth pointing out that Bettman's program began with Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," the show therefore opening with the lyrics, "It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore. I am sorry." How apropos can you get?

Then Campbell popped up on NHL on the Fly on the NHL Network ( story and video), trying to clarify why he called Marc Savard "a fake artist" (he implies "embellisher" would have been a better term to use) and insisting that he didn't and wouldn't exert influence on the referees to be lenient with his son Gregory, who then played for the Panthers. That's "the most disturbing part" of this episode for Campbell.

He's also upset that the "brutal candor" that was revealed in the e-mails between him and then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom exists in every work environment and was taken as the method by which NHL Hockey Operations makes decisions. "We get our marching orders from the general managers," he said.

All well and good, although when Colie says, "We operate with the utmost transparency here," he has to mean transparency within the league, not with the fans and media -- although, magically, there was Campbell late in the evening on Versus's NHL Overtime show, explaining the nuances of his two suspensions yesterday in a public manner that is very unusual (video).

(It would be nice if this type of explanation was de rigueur. Fan blogger Mr. Plank of Fear The Fin has suggested that each decision be accompanied by a video "complete with audio commentary throughout, explaining why each incident was suspendable according to the current NHL rulebook.")

Campbell went on to again state that he doesn't have the kind of power over officials that was alleged by his accusers and that he'd sit down with Savard and explain the situation to him, although Campbell has no regrets and feels no need to apologize to anyone for anything. And he again addressed the emails themselves (Versus host Bill Patrick mistakenly said they were "leaked," but they are part of public records) saying we all "recklessly and aimlessly throw e-mails together" and he didn't know they could be retrieved years later as evidence. You have to think he'll be a bit more careful with his BlackBerry from now on.

But when Versus panel member Billy Jaffe asked Campbell if he could understand how outside observers had a different view of these matters, Campbell couldn't see it. As Bob McKenzie pointed out on this week, there remains a serious disconnect between the NHL and the fans and media when it comes to many areas of hockey operations. Until that's addressed, the issue raised by Campbell's e-mails will continue to simmer.

Blitz by Tampa: When you see a scoreline, Tampa Bay 8 - Philadelphia 7, you assume the Buccaneers beat the Eagles with the two-point conversion. Last night's match in Philadelphia looked like an NHL All-Star Game. Steven Stamkos scored three goals and a career high five points and now has 19 goals in 10 games. The NHL scoring leader, who continues to impress with his explosive development, was a guest last night on NHL Overtime. Here's that segment: [vodpod id=Video.4945638&w=425&h=350&]

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