Some might look at NHL discipline czar Colin Campbell’s inconsistent and incoherent decisions when it comes to suspensions and fines and think he’s mad as a hatter. But now we know for sure he’s more like another character from “Alice in Wonderland.”
By saying that there was no way to punish Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke for his concussion-causing blow to Bruins center Marc Savard last Sunday, Campbell was in effect declaring: “Off with their heads!”
Now, physical resemblances between Campbell and The Red Queen (shown here as played by Helena Bonham Carter) aside, here’s what Campbell told TSN about his decision to let Cooke get away with the hit unscathed even though he suspended twice in the last year for similar hits.
“I know Matt Cooke is a repeat offender, he’s been suspended twice in the last year,” Campbell said. “I can’t suspend Matt Cooke for being a repeat offender, I have to find a reason. Right now our rules say that shoulders to head are legal. Matt Cooke did not jump, and did not do anything that we found illegal in his actions even though again you don’t like what happened.
You know what that means? Let’s go head-hunting. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was asked what message the league was sending by not suspending Cooke. He tried to give Campbell the benefit of the doubt as far as declaring it’s open season on players’ heads.
“Hits to the head are legal. If you want to look at it that way, they’re legal,” said Chiarelli. “And my sense is that Coli is going to send out something that will signify the heightened awareness of the hockey ops staff. So you have to give the players notice. There may be even more closely scrutinizing these things because from now until the end of the season, there’s kind of a major opening in terms of hits to the head.”
Well, when that memo comes out, players will be able to rest assured no one is going to try to force their head off like one of those over-sized action figures with the rubbery heads you played with when you were 8. Or will they be able to feel safe? After all, there are rules about intent to injure. In effect, Campbell is saying that if you leave your feet or throw an elbow, you’re trying to injury. But an unsuspecting shoulder to the head, that’s more like a love tap. I’m sure former New York congressman Eric Massa would call such a hit a love tap. Any blow to the head is not a hockey player, unless you do it under the reign of Campbell.
Campbell played more than 700 games on defense in pro hockey. Obviously he doesn’t remember what it was like to get hit in the head. Maybe too many hits to the head caused him to forget what it’s like to get hit in the head. Regardless, Savard, David Booth and every NHL player that has suffered a serious concussion — far too many than there should be since the lockout ended — could easily tell him. Every team that’s lost a player for an extended amount of time due to a concussion could probably explain the off-ice and on-ice cost of such hits to Campbell.
However, that would require Campbell being based somewhere in reality. Like The Red Queen, Campbell is immersed in his own “wonderland” where he’s acting nobly by comparing the Cooke hit to the Mike Richards hit on Booth. Never mind the two suspend-able hits by Cooke, plus other hits that might’ve been questionable, plus other hits around the league by other players, such as St. Louis’s Cam Janssen, that earned a suspension. And definitely never mind that the Booth and Cooke hits were from different angles and the receiving players were in different states of vulnerability. Current and former players, analysts and longtime sports observers have all expressed disgust with Cooke’s hit and established that it was a cheap shot. Only one person’s opinion, though, matters — Campbell’s. He’s the judge, jury and executioner.
This is what Campbell has declared, everyone has to live with the decision and the only hope is that the new rule by the GMs has an impact next season and that Campbell issues a memo later on to warn players about possible punishments.
Until then, the NHL has it’s new catchphrase: “Off with their heads.”