SUN Hockey Pool

Colin Campbell Q & A

MORRIS DALLA COSTA.

, Last Updated: 9:31 AM ET

Colin Campbell is most often referred to as the National Hockey League's chief disciplinarian. His official title is the NHL's executive vice-president and director of hockey operations. The Tillsonburg, Ont., native is a former player and coach. He's been front and centre when dealing with issues of rule changes, rule enforcement and discipline. This week, he chatted with Sun Media columnist Morris Dalla Costa.

Q: What is the toughest decision you've made?

I can't say that any one is tougher than another. Todd Bertuzzi probably got more attention than any of the others. Decisions in the playoffs -- or rather no decisions -- are difficult because the dynamics change in the playoffs. During the season when decisions are made, it's normally about setting parameters and precedent for certain acts. In the playoffs, it becomes much narrower to the parties involved because normally, when we have discipline, a player that is hurt isn't playing and a player who did the hurting is playing against that same team. It not only becomes a situation where passions and rivalries are involved but also a great deal of money. That's where things become difficult because sometimes your focus can be blurred because everyone gets involved, right up to ownership right down to the fans and media and believe it or not even media become fans.

Q: Why do some suspensions seem to get more publicity than others?

Brad May got a 20-game suspension for swinging a stick. That happened when Phoenix was playing in Columbus. That drew very little attention because it wasn't in a high media centre like Toronto or New York. You've got to be careful you don't put more attention on one rather than the other. When you are doing supplemental discipline, there is no shortage of critics.

Q: Are the players getting the message?

To some extent our game, (and) football maybe, we sell hate, we sell rivalry, we sell competitiveness. You expect the players to get involved, they want to beat the other guy. For the number of games we play (close to 1,300 a year) we don't like any incidents like that and we're trying to reduce them. Our number of suspensions were between 45 and 50 a year, now they're down to 15-20 the last two years. We've reduced slashes and player behaviours in a big way. Those (major) incidents happened and they will happen again. But the players are certainly getting it.

Q: Are you affected by criticism?

No one wants to be criticized. I expect criticism by home-town fans. They look at things with rose-coloured glasses. We do listen. I take everything into consideration . . . not before we make a decision but when we chart our course. We sell our game to the public. We don't play at 10 in the morning. We ask the people what they like when we changed the rules. I guess we should listen . . . "

Q: Will there come a time when any check to the head will result in a penalty?

We'll discuss it. But I've talked to leagues where any check to the head is a penalty and . . . if this rule is out there, you're getting players coming into our league who have played all the way up, knowing they are not going to get hit with a shoulder to the head, they come to the NHL and won't be prepared for it. I remember when I played, I got nailed by Willi Plett. I remember I was out on the ice. I remember thinking,: "The coach is going to think; 'How can I expose myself that way?' " My dad is going to give me crap for exposing myself. We're to the point where we've gotten rid of a lot of things that have caused injuries. Now we're looking at head checking. We'll beat it up and discuss it with everyone involved.

Q: The league has $7.7 million in a fine fund. What does the money get used for?

It goes to the NHL players emergency assistance fund. It helps players who are in trouble after their playing days, officials who have had some problems, hockey people who had some difficulty after hockey. We give them a little money but mostly pay for medical help, pay for alcohol and drug centres. It seems the more money players get paid, the more problems they seem to have. There's also a vehicle for helping them with education after they play. We're pretty protective of that fund.

Q: Who do you answer to?

There's a number of people we answer to. The board of governors who own the teams. The players who seek protection and guidance on what they can or can't do. The managers, the media, and probably near the top are the fans, who have a real investment in the game.

Q: How do you reach a decision on what kind of punishment to hand out?

There's a lot that goes into making a decision on supplemental discipline. Is there an injury? Is the player a repeat offender? The more difficult decisions are when there are injuries. Trying to determine how much consideration, impact and blame should be put on the player for the injury he caused. Was it part of the game he was playing or was he totally responsible for the injury? I have people in the office here like Mike Murphy, with all sorts of experience. I call a lot of people like ex-players, and we beat things up pretty good before making decisions. It's important because you need to ask yourself . . . are we too involved in the inner circle to see something outside of here?

Q: You mentioned young people. Do you worry about the example the league sets for young players?

One of the things that is important to me is that young people, children are watching the game. Kids and parents come up to me and want to know what's right and wrong. I'm sending some sort of message to these kids about what's tolerated and what's not tolerated. That responsibility, in my mind, is huge.

Q: Do you view the league from the standpoint of being a former player?

I look at it as a parent, player and coach. Here's an example. I've got a son playing now (Gregory). He had a concussion. I watched him on the ice with his eyes in the back of his head and his hands up in the air. It was a good check. Maybe it was a little crass, but I give him three or four days to recover then I gave him crap. 'You should have known (Vitaly) Visnievski was on the ice and he always hits guys.

Q: How much guidance do you provide?

We provide a lot of information to players and teams . . . but at some point in time, you can't tell the player everything. There should be some common sense there for what he can or can't do.

Q: Do you want to get back into the game as a coach or team executive?

I competed to try and win the Stanley Cup. One of the hardest parts is sitting there and watching the Stanley Cup being handed out. I handed out a conference trophy once. That's the last time I'll do that. It was a weird, weird feeling. All my life I've tried to win trophies and here I am handing them out. I'd like to go back and compete and try and win a Stanley Cup. I know a lot more now than I knew when I was coaching the Rangers.


Videos

Photos