Campbell's Cuts: Bettman's silence speaks volumes
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has already established the precedent and the fact that he refuses to use it on Steve Downie represents another in the many blights on his leadership of the NHL.
Forget about league disciplinarian Colin Campbell on this one. If there were ever a situation that cried out for a direct response and a stern message from Bettman that the NHL will not tolerate this kind of nonsense, it's Downie's attack on Dean McAmmond Tuesday night in Ottawa.
That Bettman has chosen to turtle on this one is a damning indictment of his ability to lead this league. By Friday, Bettman will be halfway across the world for the L.A. Kings-Anaheim Ducks season opener in London and it will be Campbell who conducts the hearing with Downie at 11 a.m. at the NHL's office in Toronto.
Unacceptable. Simply unacceptable.
When Bettman chose to use his powers as commissioner to suspend Mark Bell of the Toronto Maple Leafs 15 games after Bell pleaded no contest to drunk driving causing injury and hit and run, deputy commissioner Bill Daly justified the suspension by saying it was administered, "pursuant to a provision of the league by-laws allowing for the imposition of discipline for conduct that has been dishonorable or prejudicial to the welfare of the league or game. We felt Mark's conduct here, when viewed in its entirety, rose to that level."
Bettman saw no problem denying a player who says he hasn't had a drink in a year and will serve a six-month jail sentence his privilege of playing in the NHL for 18.3 per cent of the season. It was a heinous off-ice act to be sure and whether you agree with him or not, Bettman acted in what he thought were the best interests of the game. His right-hand man even said so himself.
So why not apply the same standard to Downie, who, at the very least, has seriously injured McAmmond and, at the very worst, might have ended his career? Was what Downie did not "dishonorable to the welfare of the league or game?" Does it do anything for the welfare of the game when players have to constantly worry about players such as Downie attacking them?
This would be a wonderful opportunity for Bettman to display the leadership on the headshot issue that the GMs and hockey operations people in the league have been unable to show themselves. Last spring at the GMs meetings, the issue of headshots was discussed at length and the so-called "hockey people" were more divided on what constitutes a headshot and what to do about it than they were when they went into the meeting. And there's absolutely nothing to suggest they're any closer on the issue as the new season draws upon us.
Wouldn't it be a refreshing change for Bettman to simply give Downie, who has a reputation and checkered history for on-ice mayhem going back to his junior days, a 40- or 50-game suspension? At the very least it would send Downie a message that he'd better conduct himself a little more reasonably as an NHL player and, at best, it would send a message to all the other headhunters out there that the league finally means business when it comes to blows to the head.
But it will be Campbell and the hockey operations department Â– the same ones who can't decide on this issue Â– who make the decision and my guess is it will be woefully inadequate. And so it will go with headhunters continuing to force everyone else to keep looking over their backs every time they skate along the boards or go into a corner or go to the front of the net.
With the other headshots that have occurred in the past, there was always a segment of the population that, in its own twisted way, was able to justify the hit somehow. The guy was simply finishing his check. He was already committed to the hit. Hell, Chris Pronger and Ducks GM Brian Burke even talked about the laws of physics when the 6-foot-6 Pronger drilled the head of 6-foot-1 Tomas Holmstrom into the boards during last year's playoffs.
But this one was entirely different. Not even the most ardent knuckle-dragger in hockey could justify this one. Downie's hit was simply a search-and-destroy mission with a clear intention to hurt another player. Plus, it was perpetrated by a player who has a well-documented history for this kind of behavior.
How much more does Bettman need to see to step in? But he won't, and that's unfortunate. And in doing so, instead of asserting his authority and doing what's right for the game, Bettman has abdicated that right and responsibility and has given his critics every reason to continue to question his leadership.
The NHL Players' Association has reportedly pared down its short list of potential executive directors to single digits, but has remained very tight-lipped concerning who occupies it.
One name that has come up is Michael Weiner, who is general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players' Association and has done some work with the NHLPA on arbitration matters.
Sources say Weiner would have been a slam-dunk to get the job, except for one problem - he doesn't want it.
Apparently, he's the heir apparent to Donald Fehr with the baseball union and he's holding out for that job when Fehr retires. And really, why would he want to work for an association where most of the power lies in 30 player representatives? Talk about your recipes for disaster.
Gord Ash and Paul Beeston, who both have strong ties to Toronto baseball circles and have a good working knowledge of hockey, have been mentioned as possible candidates.
Raise your hand if you were surprised to see Chris Simon playing in a pre-season game, despite the fact he is still serving a suspension for clubbing Ryan Hollweg over the head with his stick last season.
Raise your hand if you were flabbergasted to see him playing a pre-season game against Hollweg and the Rangers.
That's good, sound thinking on the part of everyone involved.
When asked why Simon has been allowed to play in the pre-season, while Mark Bell and Sean Hill, two other players who are suspended, are not, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, "For different reasons, relating to the specific terms of each player's suspension."
Oh, that clears it up. Never mind.
Ken Campbell's Cuts appears regularly only on The Hockey News.com. Want to get the inside edge from Ken himself? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of THN's senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken's expertise delivered to you every issue.