Better late than never, as the saying goes.
NHL “disciplinarian” Colin Campbell today handed down an 8 game suspension to Anaheim Ducks defenseman James Wisniewski for this horrendous head shot:
I’m sure there are many hockey fans out there that are both puzzled and outraged with the decision. Why did he get 8 games while Matt Cooke got none? Why did he get 8 games while Downie got none? Why did he get 8 games while Ovechkin only got 2?
The fact is it doesn’t matter. Not anymore.
While Campbell sat by and blithely found reasons to dismiss dirty hits, or hand out limp 2-game bans, fans got angrier and angrier while the NHL made itself in to more and more of a laughing stock.
If there’s a silver lining to a hit like Wisniewski’s, it’s that Seabrook walked away from the hit, and it’s that Campbell acted swiftly and harshly. He didn’t dawdle over whether or not Cooke would or could be suspended, he didn’t hand out pathetic $1,000 fines, and he didn’t sit around spinning the wheel of justice until it landed on a small enough number of games fit for a star to miss. Clearly, when he wants to, he is able to act quickly instead of checking schedules for potential conflicts, and checking to see which way the wind is blowing.
On the night that an angry Bruins team was going to get their shot at retribution on Matt Cooke, Campbell levied what I hope to be the new standard for dirty hits, especially ones to the head. Now I’m sure that Bruins fans (and the Bruins themselves) are extra angry. If any one of their players gets excessive with Cooke, or one of the Penguins stars, you can bet that the suspension will be severe. It’s unfair, and on some level it’s wrong. Sometimes you’re the bug, and sometimes you’re the windshield. In a season where nothing has gone right, the Bruins are the bug.
I think fans have to understand that Campbell has probably figured out that he’s made a fairly ugly mess of things and that he has to put a stop to it at some point. With guys having their heads smashed on a nightly basis, the time to act is now. In fact, the time to act was long ago. The players are as disjointed a group as there is, there’s no sense in looking to them for logical behavior or coherent action. To a man, they keep blowing the same hot air: “I didn’t intend to hurt him / I don’t go out there to injure”. Sure guys. Then why does it keep happening? And why do you guys keep acting as a roadblock to getting new rules in place? If the players can’t or won’t control themselves, then the league has to do it for them. Marc Savard, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook, and Sidney Crosby have all been subject to a range of questionable hits over the past week. You can even lump Seabrook’s questionable hit on Perry in there if you want. That’s 5 guys of Olympic and all-star calibre in a week. Two will miss a long period of time, 1 is yet to be determined, and 2 were lucky to walk away unscathed. At that rate there won’t be any stars left to sell the game!
Colin Campbell needed to swallow his pride, and start acting like someone who has the teeniest clue about what he’s doing. I believe he did that today, and if it’s at all possible, he deserves some credit. If 8 games becomes the new baseline for taking a run at someone’s head (heck, even if 5 games is the new baseline; Wisniewski is a repeat offender after all), then Campbell can restore some measure of faith and credibility by sticking to it, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey. He will never fully erase the years of futility and impotency that he will forever be known for, but he can do the game some good if he finally does the right thing and get serious with cheap shot artists. Players don’t care about 1 or 2 game suspensions. That’s a short break from a long year. The lost salary is just a few nights out where they take it easy instead of going all out. Start suspending guys for 10% of the season and the picture becomes clearer. Get these guys off the ice, and hit them in the wallet. That’s where it hurts most. Suddenly, they’re not thinking about just cutting back to make up for lost pay; they’re actually reeling from the financial hit. It may take a while, but I’m certain that a player with violence on his mind will think twice about recklessly hitting an unsuspecting opponent if he reprograms himself to understand that he won’t just miss a game or two, but 5 or 10.
Where do you stand? Do you think Colin Campbell finally got one right?