NHL's lack of leadership making head shots carnage worse
Normally those two questions don't appear together, but at a time when the league's discipline practices (or lack of same) have come under withering and unprecedented attack, that game was beyond feisty and Bettman has been largely invisible.
Regarding the commissioner, that's not all that unusual. The discipline debate is status quo. Executive Vice President
But now the violence is at unprecedented heights and still the Commissioner is silent. Too bad, because someone should be out front here and at least giving the
Add the dangerous hit that Chicago's
In truth, one could argue that Campbell is becoming the NHL's fall guy for all of this mayhem, given that the players keep piling up the infractions, the general managers keep ducking any real responsibility, the owners keep hiding behind the Commissioner, and the Commissioner -- in this matter at least -- has been about as visible as his predecessor,
Suffice to say it was ugly and though Ziegler eventually surfaced and called the entire situation "horrendous," it was the beginning of the end for him. His absence and the bumbling by his underlings were too much even for the see-no-evil owners club. Bettman, who fast became a student of the NHL's inglorious history, should take note of that. His league has a crisis on its collective hands and he appears to be doing nothing about it.
Now, we use the word "appears" because something odd happened in the last 24 hours. First, Campbell gave an interview to Canada's national newspaper,
But almost before the ink was dry on that story, Campbell's right hand man,
"I don't anticipate doing anything with a penalty call on the ice right now," Campbell said with what we swear was the sound of screeching tires in the background. "I think that would be a difficult thing to consistently administer at this point in time.
"That's not our issue," he added. "Our issue probably is making sure that some of the hits we've experienced can be dealt with from the supplemental discipline aspect. That's what we're trying to accomplish at the moment."
Moments don't last very long in the NHL, and our guess is that Campbell's order came from above. He has been reversed before, more than once, without anyone taking credit or blame. When you see words like "right now" and "at this point in time" and "not our issue" and "probably," it's fairly reasonable to assume that he's been told to alter his stance and fast. That happened when he started handing out real punishment in the form of 15-, 20- and 25-game suspensions a few years back and quickly went back to two- to four-gamers and the now absurdly low fines like the one Downie, a repeat offender, got for nearly breaking Crosby's leg in a takedown that Crosby never saw coming.
Of course, this was all going on just hours before the Ducks and the Blackhawks had at each other with the kind of carnage one usually reserves for Aliens vs. Predators. Old time hockey complete with a game-ending brawl, just like old time
All of the above makes it easy to imagine that the heavy hand of someone, most likely the Commissioner, is behind all this, but you wouldn't know it for the watching. And that's the real shame here. We won't go so far as to say that Colin Campbell is never at fault in these matters. He has on more than one occasion been caught in a mess of his own making. Still, when it's clear the NHL is crying out for leadership, neither Bettman nor the GMs have thrown him a lifeline. In truth, it's more like they've wrapped him in a chain with a 50-ton anchor attached and taken him out for a boat ride.
The GMs could have helped simply by stating after their meeting earlier this month that they had made progress toward a new head shot rule, but it needed more study and would be ready as soon as all the information was in and understood. They would have been vilified, but so what? Instead, bowing to pressure, mostly from media but also some in their own group, they offered up a poorly worded rule with no teeth and said they wanted it in place for next season. There couldn't have been a man in that room who didn't know the problems that would cause for the remainder of the current season and the playoffs, but what did they care? The rule they crafted was designed to leave the entire mess in Campbell's lap. That's what they always do, and so what? They came out looking like the good guys for finally moving off their own pot. Whatever mess happened afterward, well that was for Campbell to clean up.
The Commissioner did the same. He could have stepped in at most anytime and declared that "for the good of the game" he was enforcing the new rule immediately. He has long claimed that power and used it. He could have overridden Campbell's self-tied Gordian Knot of failed suspensions and the precedent he created for himself by not sitting Richards and Cooke for blows that showed clear intent to injure. He could have, as my colleague
Instead, Bettman did nothing until perhaps just now, and in what appears to be leadership-by-puppetry we have the perception of him yanking the strings on Campbell while staying miles away from a mess he helped create on this latest sad stage. Viewed from that perspective, Bettman appears far smaller than Ziegler, who simply put himself among the missing when his leadership was needed.
You'd like to think the NHL would have learned from that.
It is not my intention to throw a few "I warned you" logs on what is now a flaming
"To thine own selves be true" -- well, that's what's happened some six times over and no one should be happy about that.