Commentary

Now is time to replace Colin Campbell

Updated: March 15, 2011, 7:04 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- If indeed this is a brand-new day for the NHL when it comes to getting tough on its dangerous players, isn't it likewise time for a new sheriff to preside over this new landscape?

This isn't an indictment of NHL executive vice president Colin Campbell, the NHL's dean of discipline since 1998, as a human being.

It's not an indictment of Campbell as a hockey man.

He is highly respected throughout the game and his commitment to his job has never been in question.

But the fact of the matter is that it is time for a change.

Certainly, the tone and tenor of the NHL general managers meetings this week in Florida suggest the landscape is going to change when it comes to punishing players.

Colin Campbell
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesColin Campbell has been the league disciplinarian since 1998.

GMs have asked for stiffer suspensions, especially when it comes to blows to the head and repeat offenders, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Tuesday, the second straight day of announced changes designed to make the game safer.

"We've encouraged a little longer suspension in the case that requires suspension," explained Ottawa GM Bryan Murray. "If a guy intends to run an opponent through the boards and it appears it's something that's suspendable, rather than give him two games give him four games. The message may get across."

The plan is a laudable one assuming it gets carried out.

The promise of stiffer penalties dovetails nicely with Bettman's announcement Monday that teams, along with their executives and possibly coaches, will be fined if they breach a threshold in terms of number of suspensions.

In the face of criticism over dangerous plays around the league, the NHL has quickly positioned itself as being tough on crime.

It's about time.

While the proposed changes are laudable, they reflect significant flaws in the system and how the job was carried out under Campbell.

We understand that it is a thankless job to police the game's players.

The acts are often, if not entirely, unique, one act perhaps mimicking another but always subtly different.

But the bottom line is the dispensation of supplemental discipline in recent years has left players and coaches and GMs constantly guessing about what is or is not suspendable, and then wondering what kind of suspensions certain acts will bring.

In general Campbell has been seen as too soft on players.

A number of GMs and players told ESPN.com in advance of these meetings that they felt it was important for supplemental discipline to be handled differently, with harsher penalties.

Their demands have been answered, and with the new commitment to harsher penalties, is it not the perfect time to make a switch from Campbell?

[+] EnlargeMarc Savard
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe Bruins' Marc Savard is taken off the ice by medical staff after a blindside hit in March 2010.

Is it not a natural break point for someone new to come in for next season and preside over these new guidelines?

Perhaps it's time for a committee to handle discipline. Perhaps there is a way to make the process more open, transparent for all connected to the game from GMs and players to the media and fans.

It's not just the inconsistencies in the job done by Campbell that suggest this is a good time for a change.

His indelicate comments via e-mail about players, which appeared to include Marc Savard, were embarrassing to the league when they became part of the public record during a wrongful dismissal lawsuit filed by a former referee.

And it remains mind-boggling that Campbell has remained on the job even though his son, Gregory, has been playing in the NHL since 2005-06. Yes, Campbell has recused himself whenever disciplinary issues have arisen involving his son's teams, but the optics remain puzzling at best, unacceptable at worst.

Last week when the league opted not to suspend Boston captain Zdeno Chara for his hit on Max Pacioretty, a ruling made by another top executive, Mike Murphy, because Gregory Campbell plays for the Bruins, San Jose's Joe Thornton suggested the Bruins seem to get preferential treatment.

If Thornton, hardly a lightning rod for controversy, suggested this publicly, you can bet the perception exists in many other dressing rooms.

In the end, this isn't to suggest Campbell's significant hockey knowledge can't be put to use by the league. But after a dozen years of him holding the post of the league's lion tamer, it is quite simply time to hand over the whip.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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