Mc79hockey blogger Tyler Dellow posted a series of e-mail conservations between Campbell and former director of officiating Stephen Walkom on Sunday night that leave open a number of questions regarding favoritism and bias for and against players in the NHL. The e-mails were originally evidence submitted by former NHL official Dean Warren in October, 2009, while disputing his termination by the league.
The e-mails, which have had the individual players and team names removed, paint a bizarre picture of Campbell referring to one player (whom after piecing together all of the evidence appears to be Bruins center Marc Savard, a player that Campbell coached with the New York Rangers) as "that little fake artist" and the "biggest faker going."
It's worth pointing out that when Savard was on the receiving end of a vicious blindside hit from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke (which led to an NHL rule change eliminating east-west blindside hits to the head ... well, making them illegal, anyway) there was no supplemental punishment from the NHL. Perhaps it's a coincidence, and perhaps it's not.
There is perhaps no aspect of the NHL that is under more intense and consistent scrutiny than its disciplinary decisions. You can call it whatever you like (wheel of discipline seems to be the most popular) and can view it any context (like the still-hilarious Down Goes Brown flow chart, that is both stunning and scary in its accuracy) but there's seemingly nothing consistent about punishments handed out by the league. Calls for Campbell to be removed from his position are as routine and frequent as the sun rising in the east. Also common: accusations of bias and favoritism. Star players being given preferential treatment, or a players reputation being a bigger factor than the actual incident that took place on the ice.
The e-mails posted by Dellow contain several exchanges where Campbell and Walkom discuss individual penalties, including this eye-opening e-mail from Campbell to Walkom during the 2007 season:
To Stephen Walkom/Tor/NHL@NHLThe players involved in the play in question, according to Dellow: Savard (the supposed "fake artist") and Campbell's son, Gregory (the player called for the penalty). The box score for that game can be seen here, via hockey-reference, showing that Campbell was the only player with three minor penalties in that game, with the third being a high-sticking call with his team already in a 5-on-4 situation.
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 shit. 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].
Dellow writes the following in his breakdown of the e-mails:
OK - this one I think we can nail down. We know that Campbell is upset about a situation involving a team that was already down to 5 v 4, on a defensive zone faceoff against a "little fake artist" who Campbell had (presumably in New York when he coached the Rangers. We also know that it was that player's third penalty of the night. We can assume, from the chair's description of this as being a few weeks after some earlier February emails, that it was in late February. As it so happens, there is a game featuring players that meet this description. On February 24, 2007, Dean Warren reffed a game between the Bruins and the Panthers. At 13:29 of the second, Alexei Semenov was called for high sticking. Marc Savard, who played for Colin Campbell when he coached the Rangers, came out over the boards. He glided towards the dot where he faced off with Panthers penalty killer...Gregory Campbell. The puck was dropped and Campbell was called for high sticking. His third penalty of the game. This is the only game from February, 2007 that meets the description.Not concrete, but certainly plenty of smoke. As others have already pointed out, including Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski, if Campbell hasn't been relieved of his duties by now it's unlikely any public backlash as a result of these e-mails is going to lead to a change at the top. It's just going to be more of the same: arbitrary and random punishments that make little to no sense.
UPDATE: Campbell responded to TSN with the following statement:
For me, it's much ado about nothing. Stephen and I would have banter back and forth and Stephen knows I'm a (hockey) dad venting and both of us knowing it wouldn't go any further than that. Stephen would laugh at me. The game in question (when Gregory Campbell was penalized late in the Atlanta-Florida game) wasn't on TV and I was asking Stephen to find out for me if it was a soft call. That's all there ever was to it. The (refs) working that game are still in the league, aren't they? Stephen handled the officials, just like Terry Gregson does now, and I've got a lot of emails to those guys asking about this soft call or that soft call and that's in a lot of games. I'm not ultimately responsible for the (on-ice) officials, that's Terry Gregson's responsibility, but I have to answer to GMs on these calls."