Have Savard emails exposed NHL's Colin Campbell as corrupt?

Blogger Tyler Dellow has damned NHL vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell with his own words. For any fan or player who has ever accused or suspected the league's top disciplinarian of being a vindictive, biased model of inconsistency whose favoritism and politics have turned the NHL's supplemental discipline system into professional sports' greatest punchline ... Merry Christmas.

On Sunday night, Dellow posted a few dozen emails exchanged by Campbell with members of NHL brass in 2006 and 2007. They were submitted as evidence in a complaint brought before the Ontario Labour Relations Board by former NHL official Dean Warren, who disputed his termination from the NHL.

Scroll to continue with content

The frequently profane communications about Warren's alleged incompetence had been previously reported in the media; the details Dellow discovered in the emails goes beyond that case and strike at the axel of the NHL's wobbly Wheel of Justice.

The Colin Campbell Emails aren't as much a revelation as much as a confirmation for his critics. They reveal criticism of officials who dared call disputed penalties on his son Gregory Campbell(notes), now a forward with the Boston Bruins. They reveal the candid, petty assessments by an NHL executive on the league's on-ice officials' performances.

And, most scandalously, they reveal a long-standing grudge Campbell holds against Bruins center Marc Savard(notes) ... and fans across the NHL are now wondering if that grudge may have come into play when Campbell let Matt Cooke off without a suspension for concussing Savard last season.

Have these revelations damaged Campbell severely in his position as the NHL's disciplinarian? Or are they just a professional embarrassment and a tarnish on his reputation?

(NOTE: Cached version of Dellow's post found here. His site is getting slammed Monday.)

The full Warren case can be found here on CANLII, and it includes emails sent between Campbell, former director of officiating Stephen Walkom, his second in command Terry Gregson (who is now director of officiating) and NHL VP Mike Murphy(notes).

The most damning portion of the emails is this exchange (read them in full here), regarding a high-sticking call in a February 2007 game. The players' names were redacted. From Campbell first; emphasis ours:

To Stephen Walkom/Tor/NHL@NHL
Subject Re: Delayed Penalties/High Sticks 02/#/2007 4:24 pm

A bend in the road is a dead end if you round the corner and Dean Warren is standing there. Your answer re: his high stick calls and the score of the game were horse [bleep]. The 3rd call on [player] was while they were down 5 on 4 and on a def zone face off vs that little fake artist [player] I had him in [city] biggest faker going. And Warren fell for it when he grabbed his face on a face off. Your supposed to see the act, not call the embellishing act. Dean Warren has to go with [referee] There must be a way to get rid of this guy. Is there a way we can tract (sic) and total minors called by referees this year. We could then get the minors they call per game. ... or with 2 [referees on the ice] it is impossible? Warren and [referee] out of [club's] games. Give them to [referees].

The emails were scrubbed to keep the details a secret, but Dellow narrowed them down via the evidence presented and came to a stunning conclusion: The only game that fit the scenario was a Feb. 24, 2007 game between the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins.

The only player with three minor penalties in that game? Gregory Campbell, Colin Campbell's son, whose last penalty was a high stick.

The player he allegedly hit with his stick? That Campbell felt embellished as a "little fake artist"? That played for Campbell when Campbell was an NHL coach with the New York Rangers?

Bruins center Marc Savard, according to Dellow.

Protecting his son, lashing out at a player he didn't like when he was a coach in the NHL? Why, that doesn't sound impartial at all!

From another Campbell email in that conversation, now allegedly about Savard:

Re [player]
Colin Campbell to Stephen Walkom, Mike Murphy
02/#/2007 09:21 AM

I know Murph and Kinger like [player] as a player but my view of him is this exactly...he puts his whining ahead of the game. I don't think this is a regular occurrence (.....getting screwed) and .....exploded .........over the disallowed goal. He may be uncontrollable by .............and.................as I think his frustration level has hit a high point. He hates officials as well. He is still pissed off at [referee] for a call he missed in the playoffs years ago as I remember him bugging Murph about it. Let's give him Warren and [referee] than (sic) he will really have something to whine about.

Three years later, the "whiner" and/or "little fake artist" was blindsided by Pittsburgh Penguins winger Matt Cooke(notes), suffered a concussion and Campbell washed his hands of this play:

No intent to injure, said Campbell. A shoulder to the head instead of an elbow, so we'll let 'em skate away without a suspension.

Now, thanks to Dellow, that ruling is impossible to divorce from Campbell's assessment of Savard's character in his correspondence with others, partially basing it on Savard's behavior as a 20-year-old rookie with the Rangers.

What other favorites have been played during Campbell's time with the NHL? Was Campbell impressed enough with Alexei Kovalev while coaching him in New York that this elbow to the head of Simon Gagne went unpunished? We're a bunch of tinfoil-hatters as fans; maybe for good reason.

Savard's one thing. But seriously, Colin: Bitching to the director of officiating over calls made against your son, after meticulously attempting to recuse yourself from all disciplinary situations involving him or his team?

The optics on this bit of familial bias look pretty bad.

Dellow even found another instance of Campbell complaining about a call against his son: Nov. 13, 2007, in which Colin Campbell wrote to Walkom, "90 seconds left and he calls a weak penalty...tripping. Makes me sick." The tripping call, according to the box score, was on Gregory Campbell; Colin Campbell wrote that he had not seen the penalty but heard radio announcers say "it was a bull[bleep] call."

(At least Marc "little fake artist" Savard will be safe from Campbell's decade-long grudge now that Gregory's his teammate in Boston and Campbell passes rulings on the Bruins to others in the NHL front office.)

What these emails offer is a glimpse at the machinery behind the NHL's officiating and disciplinary systems. What Campbell does in these messages -- the vulgar, petty complaints about quality of referees and their actions -- is an accepted part of his gig. Listen to this answer here on "Hockey Night In Canada," during the Alex Burrows vs. Stephan Auger affair:

Since Dellow's bombshell of a post, Boston bloggers are screaming about bias and many fans have called for Campbell's head.

To them, we'd ask: For what, exactly?

Unabashed favoritism? Reputation-based decisions? An inability to rule impartially or consistently due to personal preferences?

You needed an email to validate the obvious about Colin Campbell?

It's comforting when our suspicions are confirmed, and we assume there are more than a few "I KNEW IT!" eureka moments around hockey today. Campbell would do himself and the league good to address the controversial aspects of the emails; hell, maybe release a few more that add context or contradict their main ideas (should those exist).

But the man has given us a dozen years' worth of reasons to fire his ass, and the ones that rise above badmouthing Marc Savard or being a high-profile, micro-managing hockey dad are too numerous to list. As Jack Edwards of NESN wrote in his ode to Colin Campbell back in 2009:

The only person who seems to understand Colin Campbell's pattern of punishment is Campbell himself. The suspensions he hands down are arbitrary and erratic -- swayed by non-evidence, hunch, gut feelings, anecdotes and back-channel influence peddlers -- and they are almost never clearly explained. He establishes precedent and contradicts it. He makes exceptions based on flawed premises and then concludes his arguments illogically and capriciously. No one, no one, knows what is allowed and what is not allowed. It is Dartboard Justice.

Perhaps there is someone patrolling the highways and byways of hockey that has the ability to establish standards of punishment; to draw a clear line that everyone understands; to communicate effectively with players, coaches, managers and fans; and to make the NHL a fair and safe place for the world's most exciting athletes. But Colin Campbell is not that someone.

If anything, this controversy is an argument for someone to dole out the NHL's suspensions and fines that doesn't have history with players or political ties with team managers. Someone who isn't beholden to the players or the teams or maybe even to the NHL.

Wonder what Dean Warren's up to?