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NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell speaks to reporters during the NHL General Managers' annual fall meeting in Toronto, Ont. Tuesday, November 9, 2010. (Darren Calabrese)
NHL Senior VP and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell speaks to reporters during the NHL General Managers' annual fall meeting in Toronto, Ont. Tuesday, November 9, 2010. (Darren Calabrese)

DAVID SHOALTS

Hockey needs a Criminal Code Add to ...

If anything good can come out of the Colin Campbell Contretemps let it be clarity, if that is not too many C words.

Rather than fire Campbell for unwisely being too frank and a bit crude in his e-mails to a colleague, the NHL should use its latest tempest in a teapot to bring some order to its rulebook. Much of the umbrage over Campbell's remarks about Boston Bruins centre Marc Savard being "a little faker" and his rants about a referee he didn't like stem from people's unhappiness with Campbell's decisions on player suspensions.

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Granted, some of the rulings by the NHL's director of hockey operations are baffling at first glance. But once he offers an explanation (Matt Cooke was not suspended for giving Savard a concussion last winter because there was no rule against it), Campbell's logic can be seen, even if it is not accepted by everyone.

However, his attempts to get a handle on the new rule banning hits to the head from the blindside are not going smoothly. There are just too many variables to satisfy a constituency that is demanding black-and-white justice. What, exactly, is the blindside? Was the hit accidental or only partly accidental? Did the victim put himself in harm's way?

Then, once those questions are answered, there is the hurdle of making the punishment fit the crime. This is where Campbell inevitably meets the wrath of the armchair quarterbacks no matter how long he suspends a player.

Clearly, it is high time the league sits down with the players and draws up some guidelines for supplemental discipline. Take out much of the grey area Campbell has to deal with in suspensions so everyone knows the duration for infractions.

This is not to say something like this is not already in place. It is safe to say Campbell already has his own parameters for most offences. But they are not written down. Spelling them out clearly will eliminate a lot of the noise that accompanies the controversial rulings.

The players must be involved in this for a couple of reasons. One, they have a vested interest to keep the punishments reasonable or they might find themselves facing a 10-game suspension, say, for something they once thought might be worth three, tops. Two, believe it or not, most players really are not out to concuss their peers. They would like to know there is stiff punishment for the few that do and giving them a voice in the process means more of them will buy into the plan.

It would also be a good idea to make this part of the collective bargaining for the next labour agreement. This would give the new regulations the added strength of being written into a contract with the official seal of approval from the National Hockey League Players' Association.

Once the new regulations are drawn up, they should go to the NHL competition committee for some discussion and approval. Then it is on to the governors for the rubber stamp.

One place for this task to start is the head-shot rule. Make all hits to the head illegal. Then figure out a range of suspensions for the severity of the hits. So many games for an intentional hit that does not leave the victim concussed up to so many games for a hit that does.

Providing a range of punishment rather than an exact number for each offence should be the goal. That would acknowledge that not every offence is the same and allow Campbell leeway if there are extenuating circumstances. But the range should not be too broad in order to keep everyone aware of what is coming.

Finally, the uproar over Campbell's e-mails to then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom made me think of a time when I was a young reporter. I was covering the Calgary Flames and had occasion to sit next to their general manager of the day, Cliff Fletcher, in an out-of-town press box.

Fletcher kept up a steady stream of invective at his players and his head coach. By the end of the second period, I was sure he was going to charge down to the dressing room and fire them all.

When I mentioned this to Fletcher, he looked at me like I was crazy. He was simply caught up in the emotion of the game like any hockey person. No decision is ever made by a sensible GM in that situation; decisions come long after the emotion is gone.

 

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