With the possible exception of Gary Bettman’s call-screener on his XM satellite radio show, Colin Campbell has the toughest gig in all of hockey. As the league’s chief disciplinarian, he’s the last person players want to talk to, and the first guy reporters want to talk to, which may be the most devastating double-whammy in the history of devastating double-whammies.
So I make the following suggestion not as a personal affront to Campbell – who has shown lots of grace under lots more pressure since he took the position some 10 years ago – but as an offering of mercy to the man, as well as a safeguard for his eventual successor.
That suggestion: Once Campbell moves on to take a GM or coaching job with a team, the establishment of a three-year term limit for all future NHL disciplinarians. And in addition, hiring practices that only bring aboard candidates who possess not even the slightest interest in eventually working as coach, GM or a high-level management type for one of the league’s 30 teams.
If you followed those guidelines, you’d wind up hiring a chief policeman unconcerned about burning bridges with future employers. Instead, he or she would be able to concentrate on one job only: doling out the proper deterrents to ensure the NHL’s rules are followed to the letter.
I’m certainly not saying Campbell’s punishments (or those that came from his predecessor Brian Burke) have been based on his career aspirations. But by removing the opportunity for any perceived biases to take root, the league can completely protect itself from accusations their integrity is somehow compromised.
I don’t know you can say the same right now. As things stand, people could throw out the argument – very unfairly, I’ll note – that Campbell might somehow favor the New York Rangers (the team he coached from 1994-98) or the Florida Panthers (the team on which his son, Gregory, currently plays), or for that matter, any team that employs an ex-teammate of Campbell’s from his playing days.
Of course, he has no such bias. Still, perception is nine-tenths of the battle these days, and the optics of someone with such deep ties to the league passing judgment on those with whom he grew up in the game is not the ideal situation the NHL should prefer.
Limiting the time frame of the job also guards against any future disciplinarians using precedents established from previous suspensions before handing out more punishment, as Campbell has done with Chris Pronger and Chris Simon, among others.
Some might say Campbell’s wealth of experience in the role is a huge benefit to the supplementary discipline process, as he can weigh past incidents against current ones and emerge with a better sense of what is and isn’t fair punishment.
I completely disagree. To me, suspensions should be automatic for certain reprehensible acts, regardless of (a) a player’s intent, (b) his history of crossing the line, and (c) any regret he may have for his actions.
If the rules are the rules, there should be absolutely no wiggle room for interpretation.
There are other ways to skin this cat. Mark Moore, former player and author of the tremendous Saving The Game, believes the duties of disciplinarian should be carried out by a panel of people, and I wouldn’t have a problem if the league went that route.
I would have a problem, though, if the status quo were maintained. The uproar after Pronger’s latest, too-lenient suspension proved beyond all doubt fans and media are truly at the end of their rope when it comes to cutting the league slack over rule enforcement, and are demanding a better setup as soon as possible.
That window for improvement isn’t far off at all. Campbell’s exit from the role is expected in the relative near future, and he will undoubtedly upgrade the quality of some fortunate team’s hockey department, wherever he lands.
But he’s had the same, draining job for a decade, and that’s long enough.
With very few exceptions, coaches don’t stay with the same franchise that long. GMs don’t last that long. And neither should the person responsible for keeping coaches, GMs, teams and players in line.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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