NHL sends right message with tough penalty

Updated: March 11, 2007, 5:15 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

Colin Campbell, NHL senior executive vice president and director of hockey operations, has a long title.

On Sunday morning, he earned it.

After a short, but thorough, investigation, Campbell decided to banish Islanders left wing Chris Simon for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs as a result of his Paul Bunyan-like chop across the chin of Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg. In his announcement, Campbell stated that Simon will be suspended for a minimum of 25 games. So, if the Islanders fail to qualify for the 2007 playoffs or play fewer than 10 playoff games, Simon will serve the additional games at the start of the 2007-08 season.

Over the years, the league has tolerated a few too many nasty incidents for my taste. I still can close my eyes and see Gary Suter crosschecking Paul Kariya across the face. I think Suter got a whopping four-game league suspension (Campbell wasn't working for the league office at that time) for that act of violence in 1998. Kariya, meanwhile, suffered a concussion and missed several months. I guess it's nice to see that times have changed. Now, at least, we're sure that the league won't tolerate one player trying to decapitate another player with his hockey stick.

Actually, the Simon case likely was a simple one for Campbell, whose role as the league's supplementary disciplinarian isn't an easy one. (How would you like to hear irate mangers and owners yelling conflicting tales into your cell phone?) In this case, Campbell had clear, albeit very ugly, video evidence. Plus, he was dealing with a repeat offender. Really, Simon's slash to Hollweg's head was so despicable, so outside the realm of the game, that the decision -- like the act itself -- was a no-brainer.

At this point, Simon should consider himself extremely lucky. If his blow had landed an inch higher or lower, he might have done lasting damage to Hollweg. In that case, he'd probably be looking at criminal charges and possible jail time.

And, he should feel fortunate for another reason. As an Islander, Simon is playing for longtime friend, Ted Nolan. Simon credits Nolan with helping him find his way as a young man and a junior player at Sault Ste. Marie. In this difficult time, Simon should feel lucky to have Nolan to lean on.

The 35-year-old winger has expressed contrition for his act in a written statement released by the Islanders. It retrospect, he clearly wishes he'd taken a different path. In an instant, in the heat of a chippy game, he snapped and made an unbelievably bad decision. He'll have to live with it. In the years to come, when fans think of Simon, they'll think of the March night when he almost took a guy's head off his shoulders with a hockey stick. I don't think Simon -- or anyone -- wants that to be his legacy.

The league, however, didn't need another missed call to be its legacy. To Campbell's credit, he got it very right. But, I guess when you have a title as long as his, you're supposed to get it right. Nice work. Now, can we please get back to the playoff race?

E.J. Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send E.J. a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.