NHL's Shanahan love affair destined to end
ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
|Colin Campbell (L) and Brendan Shanahan attend a press conference before Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final hockey playoff in Vancouver, British Columbia June 1, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Blake)
Colin Campbell thinks it’s only a matter of time before the Brendan Shanahan love-in comes to an end.
“I don’t care if you are God’s son, after a while, they’re not going to like you,” said Campbell, who spent 13 years as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian before giving way to Shanahan.
“People get passionate about these things and really think you’re out to get them. It’s a real tough area. You can be accommodating, but whether it’s (disciplinary predecessors) Brian O’Neill, Brian Burke, me or Shanny, people aren’t going to like what you do. You might as well go work for Revenue Canada.”
It’s been four months since the man they call Colie resigned on the eve of his son’s first Stanley Cup final. Since then, the universal desire to deter headshots and dangerous play with severe suspensions has been implemented brilliantly by Shanahan. Using video explanations to announce several harsh rulings throughout the preseason, Shanahan appears to have turned the “toughest job in hockey” into a public-relations triumph.
“Early on, I got praise as well,” said Campbell.
“Then you drill some guys like (Steve) Downie for 20 games or (Chris) Simon for 25, and you get some real hate mail. There are some tough decisions and borderline things. Everyone eventually will say ‘he’s not consistent.’”
Campbell’s prediction stems not from jealousy or ill-will – after all, the feisty 58-year-old mentored, recommended and still works alongside Shanahan. He’s simply a rough-around-the-edges realist who rarely exhibits the ability to mask how he feels.
A forgotten man in the league’s new “enlightened era” Campbell is still the league’s Director of Hockey Operations, dealing with everything from GMs and officiating to video replays, goalie equipment and possible rule changes. He simply felt last spring it was time to give someone with a fresh set of eyes a chance to rewrite the supplementary discipline precedents as instructed by the board of governors.
“My role hasn’t changed, but I have more time do other things now,” said Campbell.
“It was getting hard to even plan a GM meeting because you have so many suspensions. You’re looking at 10 times as many hits now, and you have to move quickly. You’re totally consumed with dealing with supplementary discipline. I had hearings in the car and at Air Canada lounges and hotel rooms, arenas and back hallways.”
One particular ruling that will resonate with Flames fans came during the 2004 Stanley Cup finals, when Ville Nieminen was suspended for Game 5 after ramming Vincent Lecavalier into the glass from behind.
“I had the hearing in a parking lot of a 7/11,” Campbell said with a chuckle.
“I left the church after a funeral for Lee Fogolin’s son and hit the 7/11 to have the hearing before both teams’ flights took off.”
Campbell said Shanahan’s recent admission the league will look closely at the role of fighting in the game is nothing new as he asked the same question aloud in Jan. 2009 following the death of senior league player Don Sanderson, who went into a coma after a fight went wrong.
Proud of the fact he feels the game has been cleaned up a lot under his watch, Campbell was instrumental in adding fines for coaches and suspensions for players who fight in the final five minutes of a game. He will also play a role in how the league proceeds in the face of increasing pressure to eliminate fighting.
However, he reminds fans the only ones who vote on such matters are team owners by way of the board of governors. Still, he knows the power Shanahan wields.
“I’m trying to let him go do his own thing and told him ‘gut feel is important,’ ” Campbell said while boarding a plane to see son Gregory open the season Thursday in Boston.
“He’s been there and done it himself, so I told him ’use your head and heart. Trust your intuition. Know the players. You’re going to get lots of flack. There are times you need support from people because you’re going to feel like an island at times.’”
An island that will eventually feel like it’s sinking.