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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Reuters (JOSHUA LOTT)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Reuters (JOSHUA LOTT)

Usual Suspects

The cognitive dissonance that is the NHL message machine Add to ...

The Colin Campbell e-mail story illustrates the cognitive dissonance that is the NHL message machine. The hockey community (including some reporters) is selling NHL vice-president Colin Campbell as a concerned father and honest broker, not the biased judge of league discipline.

Yet documents in Dean Warren's labour-relations case show, among other things, Campbell expressing strong prejudices about players such as Marc Savard ("little faker") and demanding answers from the referee in chief about penalty calls on his son Gregory, then of the Florida Panthers.

Long discussed in the referee community, the Campbell story finally broke when blogger Tyler Dellow put names to Campbell's court-obtained e-mails. In standard media operating procedure, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly immediately threw up the yellow tape around the case with a few "if you knew Colin the way I knew Colins". (Daly had also earlier insisted that teams playing with just 15 skaters did not constitute a competitive disadvantage).

Those sympathetic to Campbell took to the media to cite the difficulty of spitballing discipline calls. Or, like Nick Kypreos, they employed the "just following orders" canard.

That brought dissenting voices to the scene. Hall of Fame writer Kevin Paul Dupont was categorical in the Boston Globe, saying Campbell's "dillydallying and foot shuffling left players with heads scrambled, careers in jeopardy [in March] One of them, that 'little fake artist' Savard, only hopes he gets to resume his livelihood. Best now that Campbell finds work elsewhere."

Blogger Puck Daddy says, at very least, Campbell needs to "cowboy-up and apologize to Savard, publicly." CBC's Elliotte Friedman quoted ex-referee Dave Newell (who testified against the NHL in the case ) as saying "You're asking me if personal relationships ever affected suspensions, or lack thereof? My answer is yes." Ouch.

Who to believe? In the buddy culture of the league, former player, coach and executive Campbell recuses himself from decisions involving son Gregory, and that's proof of his Solomonic wisdom. Just as Darryl Sutter employs four family members with the Calgary Flames, but he knows where the nepotism line is drawn. "Trust me" has worked for the NHL in this fashion for decades-- even when the rest of the sports world laughed in derision.

Contrast this with the outside world that asks "If these were e-mails from the mayor to the chief of police, would anyone see them as anything but interference? If a judge made such negative comments about a person and then purported to sit in judgment of him three years later, would we call it justice?"

The old bromides about trusting NHL good ol' boys doesn't cut it with folks who aren't invited to Palm Beach for NHL Board meetings or sip late-night libations with NHL folk. They want a neutral arbitrator with established penalties for crimes, not a gut-feel from a swell fella' (which Campbell is according to multiple sources) at the heart of the culture.

The league is trying to still have it both ways. Family business and wired sports innovator. Which is it going to be? As the Campbell e-mail controversy shows, the days of sucking and blowing at the same time are over for the NHL.

Bloggers Score One: As we said, the Campbell e-mail story had been sitting around for some time waiting for someone to connect the dots. The fact that it was a blogger who did so does nothing to reinforce mainstream media's perceptions about its omnipotence in such matters. This was not gossip or pillow talk, just good old-fashioned work by Dellow.

Twitter Has Spoken: Are NHL teams trying to squeeze out traditional media by using sources such as Twitter? After the GMs chewed over social media like so many pithecanthropus erectus examining fire for the first time, Vancouver president/ GM Mike Gillis became the first NHL GM to venture into Tweeting. Gillis dove in to tell Vancouver fans that the club was brining up Mario Bliznak 15 minutes before the team made it official with a press release.

Gillis says there is no intent to invade the turf of traditional media. "We just felt that some of our younger fans don't consume traditional media," Gillis told Usual Suspects Tuesday. "It's an experiment. I'm going to do it intermittently to keep in touch with those fans, but it's not meant to be a source for all our news. We'll see how it goes."

More typical, says Gillis, was a recent Tweet noting coach Alain Vigneault's career milestone and Bliznak notching his first goal. "Congrats to AV on his 300th win & Mario on his 1st career NHL goal. Much needed road win for us tonight, now off to T.O. for Sat night game." Gillis stressed that Vigneault would not join the Tweeting parade.

Another Dimension: Everyone agrees 3D is the new frontier for hockey broadcasting. But will the new technology mean that Hockey Night In Canada will have to shoot the sport in a different way? As he plans for its two 3D telecasts this season -- December 11 and the Heritage Classic on February 20 -- HNIC executive producer Trevor Pilling says that old rules may not apply.

The 3D technology requires two separate cameras (and recorders) to form the shot. That makes it difficult when cameras have to work around stanchions in the glass or boards. In addition, traditional shooting accepts the back-and-forth action better than 3D, which thrives more in a locked-off shot. "You can get a little dizzy after a while watching hockey in 3D with all the motion back and forth," notes Pilling, in his first year running HNIC.

Could that mean a wider focus and fewer close-ups? Says Pilling, who used 3D as part of his recent World Cup soccer telecasts on CBC. "It's a great technology up close, but it doesn't always work as well for objects coming in and out of the shot. Everything's new about using 3D, and we're learning as we go along."

Could we see a 3D game in the Stanley Cup Final? Pilling says it takes time to negotiate with the cable and satellite companies for carriage, so anything would have to arranged well in advance of the Final. "Besides, it's not as if we have 3D cameras kicking around. They're hard to get. And they can be very expensive."

Unwelcome Mat: Finally, Esquire writer and Cleveland chauvinist Scott Raab is trying to write a book on the defection of LeBron James to Miami. The job got a little tougher the other days when he was contacted by the Heat's PR apparatchiks. "Scott: You are no longer welcome at our building and will not be credentialed moving forward." Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Raab calls James "The Whore of Akron" since his move south. Just guessing.

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