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eric duhatschek

In the immortal words of that long-time hockey observer Ricky Ricardo, Colin Campbell has some 'splainin' to do. Already under fire for trying to sort out the complexities and nuances of the NHL's new head-shot rule, the senior vice-president of hockey operations is feeling even more heat after some of his three-year-old e-mails to then-director of officiating Stephen Walkom were posted online by blogger Tyler Dellow.

The e-mails, while edited to remove names, apparently criticize referees for penalizing Campbell's son, Gregory, then of the Florida Panthers, on at least two occasions. One of the penalties was for high-sticking Boston Bruins forward Marc Savard, whom Campbell describes as a "fake artist."

Savard was subsequently knocked unconscious in a game last March by Matt Cooke but Campbell chose not to discipline the Pittsburgh Penguins agitator. Savard remains out with postconcussion syndrome.

Let's be clear about one thing. Anyone who suggests, as many in the online community did Monday, that Campbell failed to suspend Cooke because he didn't particularly like Savard when the two were together with the New York Rangers at the start of Savard's career is off base. Savard, in his early days, often tried to embellish calls. He would be the first to admit that now. In the NHL before the lockout, when obstruction was still going strong, Savard wasn't the only smallish player to dive and otherwise try to get calls made in his favour.

No, when Campbell failed to suspend Cooke for the blindside hit on Savard, it was for one simple reason - there was no head-shot rule on the book at the time.

For the same reason, Campbell also didn't suspend Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers for a similar hit on Florida Panthers forward David Booth. As it happens, Booth's teammate last season with the Panthers was Gregory Campbell, Colin's son. If the senior Campbell really was guilty of demonstrating bias against Savard but in favour of his son's team - allegations made Monday that spread like wildfire through hockey's blogosphere - that would have been a perfect time for them to bubble up.

Instead, The calls - or lack thereof - were consistent. You might not have liked them, and lots of senior NHL people didn't, but they were consistent.

Three-year-old e-mails between Campbell and members of NHL's hockey operations staff showed poor judgment by the league's senior vice-president, who can be blunt, sarcastic, profane and hard on the referees. But if he demonstrates any bias at all, it is the bias of a former hockey coach who never, ever wants calls to go against him or his team. Officials make mistakes all the time that affect the outcome of a game, but no one takes them more personally than coaches, past and present.

How Campbell feels about refs occasionally missing the boat on calls does not qualify as earth-shattering news - and it doesn't call into question his integrity either. He gets miffed with referees across the board - ones that are still working for the NHL and ones that have left the staff.

And so while Campbell wasn't speaking for the record Monday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement, unequivocally coming to Campbell's support. Daly made the point that Campbell's job is to "analyze and assess, candidly and directly, the performance of every member of the hockey operations department, including those of on-ice officials."

Translation: If Campbell operates with a healthy dose of candour, well, that is simply his way. Daly went on to describe Campbell as "thorough, professional and scrupulous; [and]his integrity has no role whatsoever in matters pertaining to games in which his son plays. Colin Campbell has the complete confidence and support of the National Hockey League as do all members of the hockey operations department."

Sources contacted Monday confirmed that Campbell's habit is to recuse himself from making any decisions whenever there are games involving his son - who is now a Bruins teammate of Savard's - even to the point of leaving the war room when they are pondering a video review involving Boston.

The leaked e-mails revealed by Dellow date back to a wrongful dismissal complaint brought by ex-NHL referee Dean Warren to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Still, there is a larger issue here relating to the NHL disciplinary process, and it is something Campbell's predecessor, Brian Burke, dealt with as well - the fact that no two plays are ever alike. Accordingly, trying to make the penalty fit the crime is something even wise old King Solomon might have a difficult time dealing with to everyone's satisfaction.

The NHL's new head-shot rule is a pertinent case in point. Nowadays, blindside hits to the head are illegal, but that's all. So far this season, some have been deemed worthy of suspension and others have been dealt with by fines. Players say they are confused about what they can and cannot do - and that they will need time to figure out the new evolving standard.

Ideally, the league could make the matter far more crystal clear, by banning all hits to the head, thus saving the brain matter of players and making the disciplinary process far less complicated and controversial for Campbell.

If any good emerges from the tempest surrounding Campbell Monday, that might be it - eventually take all the discretion out of the supplementary discipline process and make punishment one-size-fits all. You might not get justice in the purest form of the term, but it will take all of the guessing out of the process. And that seems to be what a growing number people want - black-and-white answers to questions where there now exists multiple shades of grey.