VANCOUVER - In an unusually frank and forthcoming state-of-the-union address, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced an actual, significant piece of news just hours before the opener of the Stanley Cup final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins.
After 13 years as the NHL's chief disciplinarian, Colin Campbell will relinquish those duties to Brendan Shanahan, who has been appointed as the head of a new department of player safety. Among Shanahan's duties will be to develop rule changes, work with equipment and safety concerns and most importantly, administer supplementary discipline on behalf of the commissioner.
Bettman said the revamped process, which will include input from the players' association, will likely stiffen the penalties for egregious acts of violence in an effort to make the game safer.
Bettman also acknowledged that he hadn't wanted to make the announcement about Campbell's future until after the June board of governors meetings, but that reports of his deputy's job change had circulated all day and thus, it didn't make any sense to keep the decision under wraps any longer.
"It could be the most thankless and worst job in hockey," said Bettman, "particularly after enduring it for more than a decade.
"Colin and I both believe it is time to take a fresh look at the standards we use and if we're going to move to harsher discipline, that change needs to send a clear message - and we think it would be best to do it on a clean slate."
According to Bettman, Campbell came to him and suggested the job change himself. It had been a difficult year for Campbell, given the new focus on developing concussion protocols. It was a year in which but he became embroiled in controversy after a series of e-mails involving his son Gregory, a forward with the Boston Bruins, implied he was asking for favourable rulings from the rest of hockey operations. Campbell denied the charges and said he was just being a "hockey dad."
"It would be unfair, inappropriate and simply wrong to suggest this reorganization in any way is a diminution of Colin or his role," said Bettman. "The game is being played at the high level it is because of the rule changes that he implemented. While many people contributed to the new game, it is Colin who put it together and made it work and I don't think anybody should lose sight of that."
Because Campbell recuses himself in any series involving Gregory, he is at the Stanley Cup final as a spectator only, leaving the disciplinary duties and video reviews to his staff - primarily Mike Murphy and Kris King.
Bettman also revealed that the league was planning "a technology upgrade" in terms of video replay and "other changes to keep the game open, fast and skilful. We need to spend even more time focused on officiating."
Campbell will focus on those departments, according to Bettman, who said there wasn't a particular issue that tipped the scales one way or the other for Campbell.
"The tipping point might have been administering 13 years of supplemental discipline," said Bettman. "At some point, you deserve to have your sentence commuted."
Other interesting nuggets from Bettman: That revenues will be "within chipping distance of $3 billion" after being around $2 billion five years ago coming out of the lockout.
Expansion is not on the horizon.
CBA negotiations are not on the front burner, because Bettman would like to see "other sports leagues (NFL, NBA) go first."
And while Bettman mourned the loss of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise, he also "celebrated" the return of Winnipeg - and noted teasingly that if the deal hadn't closed in the wee hours of Monday morning, "it might not have got done at all."