On Sunday the NHL suspended Calgary’s Tom Kostopoulos six games for a hit on Detroit forward Brad Stuart. On the play, Kostopoulos’s elbow contacted Stuart directly in the face, breaking Stuart’s jaw.
NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell made the decision to suspend Kostopoulous, saying, “Kostopoulos delivered a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player. As well, he targeted the head of his opponent and, while the hit was not from the blindside, the head was the principal point of contact. The fact that Brad Stuart was not in possession of the puck when the blow was delivered and the serious nature of the player's injury were also considered in my decision."
It was action that was long overdue from Campbell, the league’s disciplinarian. But it doesn’t erase years of his ignorance. The murmur calling for Campbell’s dismissal has existed for some time. The reasons to put a stop to all the talk and finally can him couldn’t be more convincing today.
The desire for Campbell’s head was personal in Boston for years. Campbell did nothing when Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke knocked out the Bruins’ Marc Savard with a blindside shoulder-to-head hit in March of 2010. Cooke wasn’t penalized for the hit, but replays clearly showed what Cooke did. The consensus was it was a cheap shot.
Even with clear visual evidence, Campbell did not suspend Cooke, because, at the time, Colin said shoulder-to-head hits were not illegal. Savard missed the rest of the regular season and the beginning of 2010-11 season with a grade 2 concussion.
The animosity bubbled again when email conversations between Campbell and then head of officiating Stephen Walkom strongly suggested that Campbell called Savard a “little fake artist” back in 2007. Bruins fans connected a line between the two events and said a personal bias against Savard explained why Campbell looked the other way when Cooke viciously nailed Savard in the head.
The obstacle preventing Campbell from wielding his authority was cleared before the 2010-11 season began when the NHL passed a rule prohibiting blindside hits to the head.
So where was Campbell when Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby took a blindside shoulder to the head during the Winter Classic? It didn’t look like Washington’s David Steckel meant to hit Crosby in the head, but intent doesn’t matter with a rule that’s black and white.
Using Campbell’s standard from the Kostopoulos hit, Steckel’s hit on Crosby was “a blow to the head of an unsuspecting and vulnerable player” and “the head was the principal point of contact.”
Campbell isn’t absent on just hits to the head. Even when suspensions are automatic, he lets the player skate. Campbell is like a substitute prison warden, oblivious to how to enforce policies.
During a 2009 playoff game between Carolina and the Bruins (more reason for Boston fans to believe Campbell has something against their team), Scott Walker sucker-punched defenseman Aaron Ward in the face. Walker was penalized for fighting, instigating, a 10-minute misconduct and was thrown from the game. The penalty comes with an automatic one-game suspension with additional time off up to Campbell.
Campbell not only administered a $2,500 slap on the wrist, but he rescinded Walker’s automatic one-game suspension. It was insult to injury for the Bruins as Ward suffered a broken orbital bone.
Boston’s Milan Lucic got a Campbell free pass for a sucker punch thrown at Atlanta’s Freddie Meyer on December 23rd. Lucic paid a $3,500 fine and was off the hook for the automatic one-game suspension.
Campbell is asleep at his desk when he should be regulating thuggery out of the game. Campbell is cut from the old-school, tough-hockey cloth, but governing the enforcement of today’s rules by outdated standards is putting the players’ health at risk.
Pittsburgh's Kris Letang knocked Ottawa’s Jason Spezza head-first into the boards, injuring Spezza's right shoulder in December 2010. Spezza will miss four-to-six weeks while Letang is credited with “a hockey play” by Campbell.
The Kostopoulos suspension was better late than never, but it’s too late for several players. As long as Campbell remains in place, the story won’t change.
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