TORONTO – There are essentially no quiet nights now for Colin Campbell.
The NHL’s disciplinarian was at home on his couch Monday, flipping between the three games and hoping they’d be played without incident. Suddenly, his cellphone started ringing with an unknown number, and that could only mean one thing: Commissioner Gary Bettman was on the other end of the line and wanted to get Campbell’s opinion on the latest possible head shot.
Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown had just been ejected from the game for a hit on Minnesota Wild forward Antti Miettinen. The referee called the play under new Rule 48—designed to punish blindside hits to the head—although Campbell would decide it didn’t warrant any supplemental discipline.
He still heard from the Kings, who were unhappy the penalty was even called.
It’s the kind of conversation Campbell has had repeatedly over the first couple weeks of the season as players, coaches and managers adjust to the new rule. He’s been a busy man.
“It’s been tough and it hasn’t surprised us at all,” Campbell said Tuesday. “We knew it was going to be this difficult. We also knew that we were going to get criticized, probably a lot from the people who told us to do it—the managers and teams.”
Three players have received supplemental discipline as a result of head hits. Coyotes captain Shane Doan was suspended three games while Ottawa’s Nick Foligno and Edmonton’s Tom Gilbert were each fined US$2,500.
Doan said he was “shocked” by his suspension and felt he was been used as an example following a hit to Anaheim’s Dan Sexton. While Campbell objected to that suggestion—”If he tries it again, we’ll suspend him again”—he acknowledged that the new standard represents a major change within the game.
“We’re taking a legal act and calling it illegal now,” said Campbell. “That’s a real hard cultural change.”
There have already been seven suspensions this season, causing players to forfeit more than $300,000 in salary. Another five have received $2,500 fines.
One power Campbell would like to have is the ability to hand out stiffer fines in cases where he doesn’t feel a suspension is necessary. Very few players see $2,500 as much of a deterrent.
“(Nick) Foligno said, ‘Well I’m getting married and that’s a lot of money’—he’s just a young guy,” said Campbell. “But would it be to Rick Nash? Probably not. That’s our maximum, we can’t give any more. …
“The $2,500 as far as the number itself, they spend that at dinner.”
Hits to the head have concerned Campbell for a couple years, but the majority of general managers couldn’t be convinced a new rule was necessary until two devastating incidents last season—the Mike Richards-David Booth hit in October and Matt Cooke-Marc Savard hit in March.
While there have been a number of concussions early this season, none have resulted from the specific type of hit that has been outlawed. The league distributed a video to each team prior to the season outlining the rule change.
“We hope that players are getting the message,” said Campbell.
Florida Panthers coach Pete DeBoer thinks it has gotten through. His team was hurt considerably by the loss of Booth last season and believes all of the subsequent attention on the issue has made an impact.
“I know the guys in the room talk about it,” said DeBoer. “I think there’s an awareness that you’ve got to be careful on those blindside hits, especially coming back through the neutral zone. Have I seen anybody letting up on tape in those situations yet? On the tape I’ve watched, I haven’t.
“But it’s in the back of their minds.”
That’s all Campbell can hope for. As the season goes on, there is bound to be a number of incidents for him to deal with—many likely involving shoulder checks to the head.
The NHL’s disciplinarian marvels at the evolution of a sport. One of the videos his hockey operations staff put together outlined violent incidents from over the years, including one that saw Frank Mahovlich swinging his stick at an opponent. There’s a lot more subtlety involved with the dangerous plays in today’s game.
“We’re not talking about someone swinging his stick and taking a guy’s head off,” said Campbell. “We’re talking about a legal shoulder that hits a player in the head from the blindside. If you ever said that in 1967 or ’74 or ’82 or even ’93, they’d go ‘Are you nuts?’
“But we’re losing players, we’re losing careers and it’s important.”
Nashville is usually one of the NHL’s forgotten franchises. But the Predators are getting plenty of love in our weekly ranking of NHL teams from No. 1 to No. 30 (with records entering play Tuesday):
1. Nashville (5-0-3): The only team in the league without a regulation loss. Some people forget they’ve cracked 100 points three of the last five years.
2. Detroit (5-1-1): Henrik Zetterberg has come alive over the last week and leads the team in scoring. On the flipside, Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano are both minus-6.
3. Los Angeles (6-2-0): Even with the loss of Drew Doughty, the Kings have kept rolling. Justin Williams has been a pleasant surprise, bouncing back nicely from an injury-plagued campaign with seven points in the first eight games.
4. Tampa Bay (5-2-1): Steven Stamkos is destined for star status. The NHL’s current scoring leader appears ready to challenge 60 goals—much to the delight of coach Guy Boucher.
5. Montreal (5-2-1): Carey Price has justified coach Jacques Martin’s faith in him. He’s earned the start in all eight games this season and the Habs have been rolling.
6. Pittsburgh (5-3-1): The biggest storyline remains Marc-Andre Fleury, who has struggled in the majority of his starts. At least Brent Johnson has picked up the slack.
7. St. Louis (4-1-2): Jaroslav Halak has been exactly what GM Doug Armstrong was hoping for. A young Blues team seems destined to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
8. Washington (5-3-0): Injuries have hit hard, but coach Bruce Boudreau says he “hates” teams that use that as an excuse. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov will miss upcoming road trip with groin problem.
9. Dallas (5-2-0): Who saw this coming from the surprising Stars? Brad Richards is off to a solid start, which will only help fuel rumours he might be traded at some point this season.
10. Calgary (5-3-0): How is Rene Bourque still so underrated? He’s cracked the 20-goal barrier the last two seasons and already has six this year.
11. Chicago (5-4-1): It’s been a tough start to the season for reigning Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. The points aren’t coming as easily despite leading the entire NHL in ice time.
12. N.Y. Rangers (4-2-1): After three wins in three low-scoring games, the Rangers are on the rise. They’ve been spreading the scoring around.
13. Boston (4-2-0): Tim Thomas wants his No. 1 job back. The 36-year-old leads the entire league with a .978 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average.
14. Toronto (4-2-1): Goals have been extremely hard to come by. Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel have accounted for 60 per cent of the offence so far.
15. Columbus (5-3-0): Despite captain Rick Nash’s struggles, the Blue Jackets have won four of five under new coach Scott Arniel. Nash has three points and is minus-5.
16. N.Y. Islanders (4-2-2): John Tavares seems poised for a big second season. After sitting out a couple games with a concussion, he has five goals in five games.
17. Vancouver (3-3-2): Rick Rypien has never received so much attention. The NHL got it right by suspending him six games for losing his cool.
18. Carolina (4-3-0): The Hurricanes deserve credit for playing better than .500 hockey while spending the first three weeks of the season on the road.
19. San Jose (3-3-1): Antti Niemi appears to be suffering from a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover. Expect fellow Finn Antero Niittymaki to get the bulk of the work over the next little while.
20. Minnesota (3-3-2): It’s been home sweet home for Matt Cullen. He returned to his home state as a free agent over the summer and has already put up nine points.
21. Colorado (4-4-0): If John-Michael Liles is still available in your hockey pool, it might be time to put in a claim. The defenceman has quietly racked up 10 assists already.
22. Phoenix (2-2-3): An injury to Martin Hanzal and suspension to Shane Doan took a toll. In the words of coach Dave Tippett, the Coyotes have very little margin for error.
23. Philadelphia (3-4-1): Nikolay Zherdev might be wondering why he’s come back to North America. Coach Peter Laviolette is only giving him 12:30 of ice time and the enigmatic Russian has been held to one goal.
24. Atlanta (3-4-1): Pity Chris Mason. He’s faced more shots than any other goaltender in the league this season with an average of about 35 per game.
25. Buffalo (3-5-1): Tyler Myers has officially hit a sophomore slump. The towering defenceman is a team-worst minus-8 on a team that has been a disappointment so far.
26. Anaheim (3-5-1): Consistency has been an elusive animal for this team. It looks like it will be an uphill climb from here.
27. Florida (3-3-0): Pete DeBoer’s team is doing its best to keep its head above water. The team has received strong goaltending from Tomas Vokoun.
28. Ottawa (2-5-1): Cory Clouston is trying to stay positive. The coach could be in for a long season if things don’t turn around soon.
29. Edmonton (2-4-0): Let’s stop the outcry about Taylor Hall’s point total. The same things were being said about Steven Stamkos as a rookie—and he tied for the lead in goal-scoring the following season.
30. New Jersey (2-6-1): Outscored 30-15 so far, they’ve yet to win on home ice and are digging a big hole in the Atlantic Division. Ilya Kovalchuk is not the biggest problem here.