Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we ask the Globe's roster of hockey writers to give their opinions on the biggest stories in the world of puck.
Today we focus on the controversy surrounding e-mails sent three years ago by NHL senior vice-president Colin Campbell to then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom.
Inspired by Jeff Blair's column in today's Globe and Mail, we ask: Is it time for the NHL to stop putting former players and general managers in key executive positions?
Absolutely. Can you imagine if this story took place in politics? Or in the real justice system?
Colin Campbell, regardless of what people think of him personally, would have had to resign immediately -- or would have been fired. The Opposition would have had a field day, as would the media. In such circumstances, no explanation can work magic, even if explanations can be found, however tenuous, however convincing, however plausible or implausible. It would be impossible to survive.
Well, this story isn't taking place in politics, thankfully, even though there is enough manufactured outrage to make one think it is. I believe the question was whether or not the NHL should stop putting former players and GMs in key executive positions rather than whether or not Campbell should be fired.
The people put in key positions should be the best available regardless of their previous jobs. Given the nature of the job, it stands to reason there is a good chance the best people were once players or GMs. Ruling them out simply because that is what they used to be would be as stupid as some of the things I've been reading in the last few days.
And, since Roy brought it up, no, Campbell should not be fired. If he is to be fired, it should be for the body of his work not for a couple of indiscretions. I have yet to see, among all the spluttering about Campbell's e-mails, an admission that any person comes to any job without a set of preconceptions and biases. We all do. The key is to make sure those notions do not play an undue part in any decision. I have yet to see any of those in high dudgeon prove that in Campbell's case.
Campbell should get his wrist slapped for failing to keep his opinion of Marc Savard confined to conversation over drinks. Fired? No.
And I don't have a problem with any of the stuff Campbell wrote in his e-mails about former referee Dean Warren. One part of his job is to keep an eye on referees. He thought Warren was a bad referee and said so in e-mails to Stephen Walkom, Warren's immediate boss. They were still private communications even if they did become public. That is Campbell's right, even if he did use blunt and colourful language. He was communicating with a colleague, not writing Warren's performance review, so if you're offended by his tone, too freaking bad.
People sure have short memories, don't they? Once upon a time, in the glory days of the John Ziegler Jr./Gil Stein era, the NHL actually did have a justice system administered by a non-player, non-GM. His name was Brian O'Neill and guess what? It didn't work any smoother - or keep everybody happy - back then either. O'Neill was considered honest as the day is long, with unimpeachable integrity. But it didn't stop NHL teams from screaming about the sentences that he passed out either. If a team had a player suspended, inevitably the penalty was too long. If it went the other way, the system was too soft on the offending party. Referees were a particularly sore spot with a lot of general managers - and it wasn't uncommon for them to confront officials, post-game in their dressing rooms, if they were unhappy with a call, screaming at the top of their lungs.
O'Neill couldn't win; nobody in that job really ever can.
Remember too that this was before the days of Internet, 24-hour sports channels, NHL On The Fly, where every replay is available to every fan on YouTube first thing in the morning. O'Neill was able to apply his rulings from the NHL's small Montreal office, behind closed doors. In today's climate, I wonder if he'd even be interested in doing the job. My guess is probably not.
Two things need to happen here in the near future. One involves the man under the gun right now, Colin Campbell, who is likely nearing the end of his time as the NHL's chief disciplinarian anyway. In some jobs, you just need to cycle people in and out of because their demands are so relenting - and this is one of them.
If the NHL is smart, it starts to develop a succession plan now, while at the same time, amends its supplementary discipline policy to make it more consistent and transparent. That's really what's needed - more clarity in the process so that whenever a player is on the carpet for delivering a head shot, for example, he has a pretty good idea of what the penalty will involve even before he pleads his case for leniency.
And if the new man is a retired judge, or someone with a legal background that understands the intricacies of sentencing, so much the better. A fresh voice and a new set of eyes never hurt any forward-thinking organization. But if you think that the process will gallop along without a hiccup just because it isn't a former player or GM administering it, think again. Or call Brian O'Neill. He'll explain, in great detail, how mistaken you are.
If former players and general managers are the most qualified candidates, than the NHL is wise to hire them for executive positions. The trouble comes when they are hired out of cronyism, or when cronyism clouds evaluations of their performance. The latter seems to be happening with Campbell.
Agree with Blair's column and with Roy, if it was another field, it would be impossible for Campbell to survive. Disagree with Shoaltsy, the totality of Campbell's work is not at issue here. The issue is about his effectiveness going forward, now that we know he's a "venting" hockey dad.
Adjudicators -- and that's what Campbell is -- have to meet a higher standard because their jobs rest on their credibility and impartiality. When those traits come under question, the adjudicator's ability to do his/her job is compromised. That's what has happened here. And that's what the NHL doesn't seem to understand, or chooses to igmore.