Colin Campbell was back at it Thursday, performing the part of his job that draws the most scrutiny.
Campbell, the NHL's Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, issued a two-game suspension to Tampa Bay forward Mattias Ritola and a three-game suspension to Calgary center Olli Jokinen for infractions they committed Wednesday night.
In the past 36 hours, Campbell's method of meting out discipline for the League has come under some scrutiny after e-mail exchanges he had with former NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom in 2006-07 were republished.
In the internal e-mails, which were made public months ago in the course of a wrongful termination lawsuit and revived this week by a Toronto blogger, Campbell calls an NHL player a "little fake artist" and "biggest faker going," questions why certain penalties were whistled on his own son, Gregory, who at the time was playing for the Florida Panthers, and calls for the firing of an NHL official.
In the wake of those disclosures, there have been some calls for Campbell to resign, while others have sought a public apology to Boston center Marc Savard, the player Campbell acknowledged Thursday was the "little fake artist" to whom he referred in his e-mail exchange with Walkom.
Campbell, who has been in his current position for 12 years and has doled out 363 regular-season suspensions, told NHL.com Thursday night that he has never tried nor would he even be able to influence how officials go about their duties on the ice as it pertains to his son. He said he does not hold any bias toward Savard.
Savard remains out of the Bruins' lineup with post-concussion symptoms stemming from a hit to the head delivered by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke this past March. Cooke was not suspended for the hit, which, in the wake of the e-mail revelations, has led some to speculate that a bias toward Savard on the part of Campbell got in the way of his role as the NHL's chief of supplemental discipline.
"That's the most ridiculous statement, or one of the more ridiculous statements I'm hearing in this whole affair," said Campbell, who coached Savard with the Rangers in the late 1990s. "I had Marc when he first broke into the League. I was coaching the Rangers and I liked Marc. Marc was a talented player. I knew Marc could embellish and Marc embellished well. I was surprised how well he did embellish. When you're the coach of a player who knows how to embellish you call it 'drawing penalties.' When you're a coach against a player you call it diving or a fake artist, whatever you want to call it.
"For anyone, anyone in the game to think (three) years later a comment like that (in an e-mail) would be attached to an incident involving Cooke and Savard, they're crazy," Campbell continued. "It would have been easy to suspend Cooke if I could attach something wrong he did other than he had done wrong things before. We had to find something wrong in that act and we couldn't. For someone to say that I didn't want to suspend Cooke because Marc Savard might be faking, there's no way I thought Marc Savard was faking. One thing about Marc Savard is he was a tough, durable player. He wasn't someone who would fake an injury. There is a big difference between diving to try to draw a penalty and faking an injury."
While many insiders within the hockey community have gone to bat for Campbell's integrity, he has heard the calls for his resignation in the wake of these e-mails. Campbell has received full support from the NHL, including Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"Whether you coach in New York or do this job, whoever does this job, their integrity and judgment will be questioned by a lot of people," Campbell said. "I've gotten that since I've been in this. I work for the 30 owners, the 30 managers, the fans and my job is to try to make sure things are fair and the game is played properly. I work for a good boss who is on top of everything. Gary (Bettman) and I talk if not daily, 10 times daily. For anyone who cares to question my integrity and how I do the job, hey, let them do it. It's going to continue as long as I do this job. For those who don't like me or like to criticize the National Hockey League or someone in a management position, this is a ripe opportunity for them to jump on it."
One of the suggestions that has surfaced in the discussion about Campbell's e-mails is to revamp the way the League handles supplementary discipline. Campbell has heard the calls for panel of disciplinarians that would talk about incidents and together come to a decision on what type of punishment should be doled out.
He vehemently believes that such a set-up would not work.
"At some point in time one person has to make a decision," Campbell said. "You can have co-general managers, co-coaches, but someone has to say you're playing together or we're making this trade and pull the trigger. You can panel it all you want as far as beating up the incident or the situation, but at the end of the day one person has to make a final call on it. That's what we do internally."
Campbell said before he comes to a conclusion on any supplementary discipline call, he polls his colleagues in the NHL Hockey Operations Department. The Hockey Operations Department also contacts the player's general manager, the NHL Players' Association and the agent of the player in question.
The player is afforded a disciplinary hearing before Campbell issues the verdict.
"We have our panel," Campbell said. "The structure of discipline, it's a quick process. We had two disciplines (Wednesday) night that both occurred after 9 o'clock. We had to contact the manager, set up the discipline meeting for the next morning -- one team played again (Thursday) and the other team (Friday), so we had to get it done. We had to send tapes to the Players' Association. We had to contact the agents. We had the hearings and the decisions were made by noon (Thursday). It's not something you can muse over and get a panel together. You've got to be ready to go seven days a week right through the season. It's an intense process."
Campbell emphasized he and his staff care a great deal about that process.
"To all of a sudden – because of some e-mails that were written three years ago, that were out there already and some blogger tried to string them together and make them look bad together – have the equation lead to supplemental discipline and is it handled right [put into question] … We are passionate about supplemental discipline. We care about supplemental discipline," said Campbell. "We have a good staff here and I don't do it a vacuum.
"Supplemental discipline gets questioned all the time and it gets tested, but it's as transparent as it could be. The managers meet and talk about it four times in a season together as a group, what they could do more about it and what they want more from it. It's complicated and we're as passionate as we can be about it because we care about the game."
Campbell denied the perception he had a vendetta against former NHL referee Dean Warren, whose wrongful termination lawsuit against the NHL brought these e-mails into the public forum.
"I'd regret the tone of the e-mails if I had known this many people were going to read them, and those who might not like the National Hockey League or me or disagree with my decisions would find a way to read into what I wrote," Campbell said. "I don't regret doing what I did as far as my job because there (was) no intention to do anything wrong at the time. There was no affecting any game. Everything was up front."
Campbell explained why he wrote negatively about Warren in the e-mails.
"Our job is to make sure we got the best referees, the best linesmen, the best overall officials in every game. It was our opinion that Dean Warren was not capable of being one of our top referees," he said. "There is no vendetta. We invest a lot of time, effort and money into referees and we give them as much rope to do the job. They'll make mistakes just like players will, but having said that if there comes a time when we feel they can't do the job…we're always getting demands from our teams that you've got to stress accountability with your officials and if they can't cut it, like a player or a coach, it's time to go. We're the best league in the world and we expect the best officials like we do the players and coaches."