Just when you thought that the ugly spectre of head shots in the NHL had been buried until after someone took the Stanley Cup home for the summer, it jumps front and center into the first round of the playoffs.
Matt Cooke, Raffi Torres, Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie might not have much in common other than losing part of their paycheck through suspensions, but together they have exposed Colin Campbell as a clueless buffoon whose continued presence on the scene will do nothing to clarify this matter for players or fans going forward.
Kunitz and Downie both took their turns trying to decapitate an opponent in Game 3 of their teams' series Monday night in Tampa. Both received a night off for Game 4 for their efforts, although there appeared to be genuine confusion among officials after the game as to the penalty that Downie would have received had Max Talbot not scored on the tail end of the play.
We'll leave the argument over the atrocious level of officiating in the series for another day, but it is clear to several observers that at least one on-ice official was of the opinion that Downie could not be assessed a major penalty because of the goal.
Both men have a track record for playing the game with a razor sharp edge (and an occasional sharper elbow); however, Downie has a better documented history of goonish behavior that apparently escaped the attention of Campbell when handing out punishments.
Even more mystifying is the total lack of additional punishment over a hit that Vancouver's Raffi Torres laid on the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook. The Chicago defenseman was blindsided by a flying elbow from the Vancouver forward behind the Hawks' net. Seabrook stayed down for quite some time after the hit and Torres was escorted quickly from the scene of the crime by officials.
Campbell chose to take no further action on Torres and as has become his custom offered no explanation to the parties involved or to the hockey world at large. Rather than build on the message that he seemed to be sending in the Matt Cooke suspension, he has completely now lost the handle on the entire matter.
Even worse, it now appears that the Cooke suspension had little to do with Cooke's on-ice actions but was nothing more than a slap at Penguins owner Mario Lemieux, who had ripped Campbell's bungling of the Pier 6 brawl earlier in the year involving the Penguins and New York Islanders.
The players are crying out for a clear set of rules or guidance that they can put into practice on the ice. As a former player, Campbell must at least have a passing clue that such is the case, yet the signals he continues to send are at best confusing.
It is obvious from the latest set of incidents that the present structure of discipline in the NHL is only going to react after a life-threatening incident on the ice.
Someone is going to have to wind up in an ICU before anyone reacts.
Colin Campbell isn't an evil man, just a clueless one. With the escalation of this problem to frightening new heights, the difference is meaningless.
Gary Bettman needs to relieve Campbell of his duties tomorrow morning at the latest. Failure to do so means he has no one to blame but the guy who looks back in the mirror in the morning when the blood is on his hands.
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