This is how it works in sports. As Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, Campbell is the head coach of the NHL's team of discipline judges. Unless a case involving his son Gregory's Florida Panthers has to be viewed, Campbell rules.
In the game he loves and the league he has undoubtedly tried his best to protect, Campbell knows coaches get fired all the time when chaos is rampant -- even when the dysfunction is hardly the coach's fault. Like the saying goes, you can't fire the commissioner and every member of the league's large Hockey Operations staff.
You say goodbye to the man in charge.
Monday's ruling of a two-game suspension for Alexander Ovechkin on the heels of his absolution of Matt Cooke's blindside hit on Marc Savard is the final blow for Campbell. Ovechkin's push of Brian Campbell resulted in the Chicago defenseman crashing into the end boards and suffering a broken clavicle that may sideline him for at least the rest of the regular season. It was not, as the league called it, "reckless." Although the league did not hand Ovechkin an automatic one-game suspension because his last misconduct penalty was more than a half-season ago, it still chose to dock the game's most exciting superstar two games and $232,645 in salary. Worse, the league has given a vital part of its brand a record and a reputation.
Meanwhile, Matt Cooke doesn't miss a game while Marc Savard remains in pain from the severe concussion he gave him last week.
You can argue about the legality of the hits by Ovechkin and Cooke forever. Here's what you cannot argue: a major professional sports league that suspends a superstar for an ill-timed shove, but gives a free pass to a dirty, recidivist third-liner has lost a large dose of integrity.
No one can blame Pardon the Interruption for showing the Ovechkin and Cooke hits side-by-side and enjoying a hearty laugh. This is the equivalent of Michael Jordan missing games for getting a little too physical blocking a shot while Dennis Rodman gets nothing for knocking a player out cold.
It's times like these that give the NHL its bad name. It's times like these that you see the Sports Business Journal honor MLB, the NBA, NFL and Professional Bull Riding as America's best major leagues, and you cannot make a case for the NHL.
It's times like these when honest-but-true believers of the NHL want to go hide in a corner for a few days.
Good thing for Campbell that he has the majority of big-time commentators almost always on his side. He has never been good at articulating his own decisions. The czar of discipline tries. He is accessible, at least to his media favorites. He's got a good-ol-boy spirit about him that makes Campbell a guy you'd love to go out for a beer with. Colie, they call him.
But as a senior league executive, his decade has been an endless series of crazily inconsistent rulings, strange comments and -- with the upcoming court case in the dismissal of referee Dean Warren -- some alleged unprofessional behavior. (Email from Campbell to then-officiating supervisor Stephen Walkom: "Warren has to go. There must be a way to get rid of this guy. Is there a way we can track total minor called by referees this year"?)
Few thought Campbell would last in the position this long. It was assumed for a while -- even by league officials -- that he would have taken a job as a head coach or manager by now. Campbell has come close a few times (the Flyers reportedly offered him their head coaching position four years ago), but now has worn out his welcome. His predecessor, Brian Burke, understood how to do the job and represent the league.
His advocates have easy, often accurate evidence to support him. Campbell's decisions are said to often be affected by outside forces. The former NHL defenseman is known to be a good man with a profound love for the game. No one has ever disputed that.
The NHL, in a season that started with the controversial Mike Richards destruction of David Booth, is in complete disarray when it comes to supplementary discipline. The stain threatens to hurt what should be a memorable postseason.
Colin Campbell has had his time in the chair. Time for someone else to take their shot.