Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Tyler’s Coup


Tyler Dellow’s explosive Colin Campbell post.

First, kudos to Tyler for actually doing some investigative journalism. I’ve been doing this stuff pretty much from the beginning and its the first time a blogger has broken a real story, a story that had to be picked up by the mainstream hockey media and it is also the first time the league has been forced to do damage control in response to the blogosphere.

Tyler’s piece also raises fairly serious questions about the mainstream media. The Toronto Star apparently had this story three years ago. Did they misunderstand the significance? Or did they decide to ignore the significance because it was embarassing to the league? Did other mainstream media outlets also have the story and decide to ignore it? I think the answer is probably yes, just based on the response to Tyler’s work. The MSM has pretty much rushed to defend Campbell’s integrity. If I am a hockey reporter who knows Campbell and thinks his decisions are unbiased, there really isn’t a story when I read the emails. If I’m going to defend his integrity when someone else publishes them, I’m certainly not going to be the first to publish them.

As to the controversy the emails generated, I don’t really believe that Campbell influenced the way officials called games involving his son (at least partly because of comments made by officials in Eliotte Friedman’s piece). I can even almost imagine that the emails Colin sent that involved his son were “banter” between he and Walkom and not to be taken seriously.

My problem with all the emails (and not just the ones involving Campbell Jr) is the incompetence they reflect. It is the incompetence – not bias – that makes the officiating so poor and the disciplinary decisions so inconsistent. That’s why the league has a credibility problem. Too many fans now believe officials favour certain teams or make calls to generate action. The perception of bias is probably wrong, but it exists because the officiating is so bad. Campbell’s job is to help the officials improve. That is the only way to eliminate the perceptions and restore some integrity to hockey operations.

The league changed the officiating standards coming out of the lockout and it made the referee’s job much more difficult. In a healthy organization, employees faced with difficult change get support from their superiors. Are the officials supported?

Fans have had to learn to live with a lot more “soft” calls at critical times because there are many more “soft” calls all over the ice. Publicly, Colin Campbell appears to support the officials even when they make mistakes. Privately, blistering emails follow a complaint from a GM. Publicly, Campbell will declare the league wants officials to call the penalties regardless of the situation. Privately, Campbell rails about a call made late in a close game. Campbell’s job is to help the officials improve. Which of them reading these emails won’t see Campbell as a hypocritical asshole? No wonder Friedman reports that he “cannot believe how many officials who spent decades in the NHL are leaving angry.”

I can believe it.

Update: Gary Bettman weighed in on the issue during his radio show. Among other things, he declared that Campbell “takes his service to the game, the teams and the players as seriously as any human being can and he is somebody of the utmost integrity, and that’s the way people around the League view him.”

I wish Bettman had thought to include the officials. Do they think he is fair? Do they think he supports them? Do they think he helps them get better?

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6 Responses to “Tyler’s Coup”
  1. rajeev says:

    The Toronto Star apparently had this story three years ago. Did they misunderstand the significance?

    Is there anything to suggest that anyone at the Star did the actual investigative work to determine the identities of the relevant players’ whose names were redacted? My understanding, and someone correct me if I’m wrong, is that Tyler was the first person to take the initiative to find out who was being referenced, make the requisite logical assumptions, and do the actual research to determine that Campbell was incessantly bitching to the director of officiating about refs who called penalties against his son.

    That Campbell comes across as a bit of an ass with horrific grammar/typing or that he curses and criticizes his refs or that he’s hypocritical in these emails is not the story at all. The only real issue with respect to the league is that Campbell is repeatedly criticizing refs for specific calls that went against his son. He may not be handing out supplemental discipline for actions occurring in games involving his son – the league’s catch-all answer to any conflict of interest issues with respect to Campbell, well, that and conclusory proclamations of how great Colie is and how much integrity he has – but he is clearly closely monitoring how his son is being treated by refs, and the director of officiating, and by extension the refs making the calls, clearly know about it. This would be normal hockey dad venting if he was bitching to his wife or buddies, but it’s called a conflict of interest when he’s doing it to his subordinates who affect how games are called. (Incidentally, do you think Campbell was listening to a meaningless untelevised FLA-ATL game in Oct. on the radio in his capacity as NHL employee or hockey dad? And when he was emailing Walkom after the game, which role was that?) This is regardless of Campbell’s intent and love of the game – rules regarding conflicts of interest don’t apply differently to good guys and bad guys.

    Daly’s statement that “[Campbell] has no role whatsoever in matters pertaining to games in which his son plays” is totally false at worst and terribly misleading at best. Unless he is using “no role” completely outside the scope of common sense or the English language.

    The other issue here is the MSM’s complete incompetence and/or loyalty to the institutions/actors that support their livelihood, neither of which is surprising nor has been undocumented. Tyler showed more aptitude and did more diligence in his spare time than any MSM journalistic showed or did in their professional job. Mackenzie wrote about 65,000 words on this episode and didn’t come anywhere near to touching the interesting conflict of interest issue that is at the heart of it. And I’ve said it before on Tyler’s blog but I’ll say it again here, Damien Cox is the dumbest human being on the planet.

  2. Gerald says:

    Those are all valid statements that both you (Tom) and Rajeev make.

    I have never been a big “Campbell must go” guy, as I find a lot of the criticism has been motivated by partisan concerns and/or the usual degree of certainty that hockey fans feel with respect to their particular interpretation of hockey plays.

    That being said, if I am NHL commissioner and read this stuff, Campbell would already have been out the door with an imprint of my foot on his hind quarters (after some due process, of course).

    What shocks me in addition to the above observations is the profound lack of professionalism that is clearly evident in these communications. As an additional point, it both shocks and befuddles me that a person filling Campbell’s role ever considers requests for particular officials from the likes of a GM. As well, this apparent taking of officiating criticism from GMs on an off-the-cuff basis (essentially, bitching) is shoddy and unprofessional. If a GM has an issue, write a formal complaint. that would get rid of the reflexive bitching over every single call that it seems GMs submit to the NHL executives. It mirrors what players/coaches do to officials on the ice. The latter is at least understandable in the heat of competition, but suits doing it is ridiculous. You have an officiating complaint? Well, then, formally complain, or address it in periodic surveys that the NHL should do.

  3. Tom says:

    The only real issue with respect to the league is that Campbell is repeatedly criticizing refs for specific calls that went against his son.

    I think this is a clear conflict which says something about Campbell, but I do think it is fairly small potatoes unless a referee is prepared to say he was pressured or influenced in any way. Even if he is guilty, guilty, guilty of this, the impact on the league as a whole is tiny. Should he get canned for it? Yes, he should, but I’d fire him even if the emails related to Joe Blow or any other player.

    Stop the presses. I agree entirely with Gerald.

    The officiating sucks and in my view it is getting worse. I think one reason the officiating sucks and is not improving is this kind of nonsense. Campbell should tell any GM who calls to complain to bleep off. Any criticism of an official should come from Walkom (Gregory, now) based on Walkom’s assessment of his work. Everyone acknowledges that the officials have a difficult job and that perfection is unattainable. Does that come across in the emails? How do officials feel about hearing the complaints of GMs from Campbell? Does Campbell sound like he is in the official’s corner? Or do the refs feel like they are left twisting in the wind when they err when faced with a tough call? I’d like Friedman to find out exactly why so many senior officials are pissed off, but I’d be pissed off working for the likes of Campbell.

    I’d fire Campbell because I think the officiating can be improved with competent management, management that is not shoddy and unprofessional. If Gregory Campbell is cut tomorrow, Colin’s conflict disappears which might do something about perceptions but it won’t do anything about the officiating. If Campbell was fired, a better manager will produce better officiating.

  4. mc79hockey says:

    Oh, lets make this the quiet intelligent discussion place. I was hoping for that at my site but, for obvious reasons, that’s not going to be the case.

    Tom – you said: “I do think it is fairly small potatoes unless a referee is prepared to say he was pressured or influenced in any way.” Warren has said this. The emails back him up too. I wrote a post at Battle of Alberta (my home away from home) about it but the gist of it is this: in October of 2006, Warren officiated a Florida-Atlanta game. Gregory was a Panther at the time. Towards the end of the game, he called a penalty on Martin Gelinas for boarding. Warren says that this is what happened next:

    I’d called a penalty late in a game against Florida. Stephen Walkom was the director of officiating at the time and he called me the next day. He said “Mr. Campbell doesn’t think it’s a penalty.” And I said, “Well, the guy ran him down from behind, the player got hit, went head first into the boards…I don’t know how you can’t call it a penalty…as a matter of fact, I kind of wondered ‘Should I be giving a game misconduct as well as a penalty.?'”

    I do know at the time, Stephen Walkom said ‘Look, if I gotta listen to Colin Campbell anymore, I’m gonna slit my own wrists.’ So, it kind of gives you an indication that Mr. Campbell was certainly ruling or making decisions on games involving Florida and his son’s team.

    This was immediately before he went out and did another game involving Florida and Atlanta. The emails back it up.

    Ultimately, the NHL can get away with it because they’re a private business. If they want to have a press conference at the start of every year and announce that, this year Team ABC will get screwed by the refs every game, just because, they’re free to do so. They can rig things however they want. Shame that the media enables them in it though.

    • Tom says:

      I hear you Tyler. My point is that even if you ignore the fact that this intervention involved Florida, it is wrong. He should not intervene this way with any team or any call made on any player. To me, that is a bigger issue than the fact that there is an apparent conflict. The conflict sticks out because everyone can see it. But all it could possibly do – even if the officials listened – is affect a few calls in a few games. That is enough to justify dismissal in my mind, but it still isn’t as important as the overall quality of the officiating.

      I’d fire Campbell even if that conflict did not exist because he is creating the conditions that make it very hard for the officiating to improve. The tone, the complaint process, and the environment it creates affects every game.

    • Boxcar says:

      I could not agree more. As of yet, I have not heard any of the Bob Mackenzie types address why they all sat on this story, and when it broke they all tripped over each other to stand behind “Good” guy Colie.
      I think the little clique of hockey journalists have once again proven they are much too close to the management types to be impartial. Maybe someone like Ron Maclean may address this but they will probably just insult our intelligence with lame answers and bluster.

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