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NHL VP Campbell discusses email controversy with TSN

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TSN.ca Staff
11/19/2010 5:34:23 PM
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NHL Vice President Colin Campbell has been scrutinized this week for emails that he sent three years ago, in which he called Marc Savard a 'faker' and criticized former referee Dean Warren.

Campbell sat down with TSN's James Duthie on Friday and gave his side of the story.

James Duthie: Do you think this entire episode diminishes your credibility or your ability to do the job?

Colin Campbell: No, not at all. We've been challenged before. I've been challenged before in decisions and I don't blame players (or) teams for challenging me or hockey operations. We have to make tough decisions and they're passionate and I've been in their position before as a player or a coach thinking they're wrong and you just have to soldier on and deal with what the league says. And for someone to say all of sudden emails that were strung together from three, four and five years ago all of a sudden, to say I can't do the job three years later, then that must mean everything I did the past three years were wrong or should be questioned.

Duthie: But you understand the perception publicly?

Campbell: Sure I understand the perception. But I also understand that there's always transparency in this job. There's internal transparency with the teams, and the managers and the league, and there's the transparency that is demanded of us by groups like yours, your panel, the media coverage in every city that anything we do will be critiqued and watched differently and discussed and compared. For something like this to be positioned like it was and how it came out is in my mind is totally wrong and absurd.

Duthie: But, do you believe the emails to former referee-in-chief Stephen Walkom were inappropriate?

Campbell: No they weren't inappropriate in the sense and in the time that they were sent, they were just like dressing room conversations - you're talking back and forth. Stephen was a good guy, you could challenge Stephen on the work that the group officials did because we were being challenged on a nightly basis by our teams. Your group, for example, your panel, challenges almost every call on a nightly basis. And Stephen was the filter. And I've said many of times to Stephen or Terry Gregson or Andy Van Hellemond or Brian Lewis, anybody that ran the officials - I've never skated five seconds in your official's skates. These are the questions that were handed by our managers, our coaches or players. Now you have to tell us or we will ask the question for them. And we're challenged with that accountability; our officials are challenged every night. And they've got a tough job. And we take those challenges through our director of officials and they take them and discuss them with their people. And that's the transparency that we're challenged with.

Duthie: But when you have a quote like calling Marc Savard a 'little fake artist' and when there are emails involving calls involving your son – how can you not acknowledge there's somewhat inappropriateness to that?

Campbell: Well, it is inappropriate. But no one told me or maybe told you five years ago that you can take your emails and read them all. If I knew someone was going to read my emails, then I would have positioned it differently. I would have said, 'Okay, on this play I think this player was embellishing these two calls. Would you please check into it?'

We say that on a nightly basis. You could probably ... there are other emails that would say that about certain plays. But now after three years ago, when they demanded our emails in a hearing where we released an official, we said “ok everyone. We have to be careful. This is not dressing room talk anymore on your emails. This is a formal situation. This is like something … if you're going to ask a question on email, you have to take into account they might be reading your email on TSN tomorrow. So say it in a way that everyone can't interpret it as something else, that they have to interpret it as what exactly you're saying.

Duthie: That quote on Marc Savard, calling him a little fake artist ... have you apologized to Savard and the Bruins or do you intend to approach them?

Campbell: I've talked to Peter Chiarelli when this became public. It was the first call I made after I talked to Gary Bettman. These aren't new emails, these are emails that were there three years ago. And this email was sent four or five years ago, when we did have a list where we were charged with sending out a list every Monday of players who we felt were embellishing penalties. In this case here, maybe the term could have been different. But I didn't realize it would be under scrutiny four years later. Fake artist and Marc was pretty good at it as a lot of players are.

Duthie: Do you believe that he is that?

Campbell: When I coached Marc when I first had him in New York, Marc was good at drawing penalties. Call it what you want: a player who can draw penalties, a player who can embellish, a player who can dive someone who is an artist and can fake. But people love to take the quote, and then, they love to attach it to the incident with cooke and Marc last year which is totally absurd. Totally absurd. And for anyone to do that, I understand, it's good page six reading, it's Entertainment Tonight, let's jump on this guy, he's a good guy to jump on, he's a lightning rod. But it's ridiculous and I don't feel off about it, I get mad. It's crazy. We put a lot of time and effort into that situation and for anyone to now attack it as us thinking Marc embellished an injury or we thought he embellished the injury is crazy.

Duthie: Just to clarify: you talked to the Bruins but do you intend to talk to Savard at all?

Campbell: Not because you guys are asking me that question. I wouldn't mind having a coffee with Marc at some point and explaining this whole thing. I liked Marc as a player when I had him in New York when I was the Rangers coach. Marc was a good kid, we just had him out of Oshawa. He was a high draft choice and I knew he would be a good player in this league because he had a great record in Oshawa. I talked to Marc as recently as the Montreal All-Star Game when we put him on the All-Star Team.

Duthie: The emails in question had a lot to do with your son, Gregory. What impact do you think this entire situation has had on him?

Campbell: Gregory's had a tough road to hoe with me doing this job when he came into this league. There's lots of things that happen on a nightly basis when my name is brought up by other players. Trash talking happens in every sport and it's too bad I have to be me and he just can't be a player and do his job. But he's done a great job doing what he's doing and playing the role he has despite what's been thrown at him. I suspended a player for 10 games - Ruslan Salei - six, seven, eight years ago and he was Gregory's teammate in Florida. So I've suspended his teammates, whatever team Gregory plays on now I have nothing to do with. When I go to games, I wear my blue jeans, I wear my barn coat and I watch the game and I extract myself from any part of that.

Duthie: And you said in the emails it was locker room talk and you were just a hockey dad venting I believe is what you said. But given the scrutiny of games involving Gregory and the calls against him were under, can you be sure the emails didn't influence officiating in some way?

Campbell: Well one would be crazy to think we could influence referees in individual games. Our referees, our linesmen, our officials, we certainly instruct them what we want them to do, how we want them to call games, depending on what the managers have decided and discussed as far as certain aspects of the game rules (like) headshots. And once the game starts it's really absurd and foolish to think a referee is going out there with an agenda. He goes out there when the game starts, he calls it as he sees it. I know that's an old saying, but he calls the game. And to think that I could influence him, they could be influenced by my son out there, whether it's a star player, whether it's a popular player, whether it's a Scotty Bowman behind one bench and a rookie behind the other bench - we've had accusations that this team is getting the breaks because they're the Stanley Cup winners and we're just ‘Joe Schmoes' from a small market. That's absurd. We've had that thrown at us all kinds of different ways, so to think that my son has a break, in fact, as a father you'd think the opposite: he gets more attention. But you know, it is what it is.

Duthie: It's again ... the perception. Just because you're writing an angry email about a call against your son?

Campbell: Right. And any father would say, 'that's a crazy call.' But for anyone to think that it could go beyond the ice surface, again that's absurd.

Duthie: Have you sent any emails to current director of officiating Terry Gregson that were similar to the ones that you sent to Stephon Walkom? If more came out?

Campbell: No, these emails. When we found out they can take any of your emails…in fact, I've asked our people to take all the panel's emails and their blackberries and take a look their emails over the past five years…no. When these emails were requested three years ago, I didn't know personal emails could be requested and then used as evidence in any sort of hearing or removal of an official.

Duthie: I think everyone would agree if you took the worst email from their past you could find bad things in anybody's email. However, when it is the Senior VP of the NHL writing the director or officiating about calls on the ice, some say that's a different case.

Campbell: To this day I write to Terry Gregson about calls on the ice and not about my son, but where does it stop? For example, I ask questions on a daily basis, 'what about that play last night?' And I say we'll discuss. John Tortorella as recently as three days ago asked me about two plays in the game with Pittsburgh. I said, 'John, we'll look into it.' Mike Murphy will review the whole tape. We'll discuss it with Terry Gregson if we think we need to discuss it. This is a weekly, if not a daily situation on calls on the ice. The accountability of our officials is something we take very seriously because they're always challenged. And they understand it - they don't like it. But our coaches are accountable every day and our players are accountable every day. So accountability is something we deal with on a daily basis. But for someone to take a couple of emails stretched over the course of three years and string them together ... and I know, it's perception. So we have to be very careful. But it's this day and age of technology that you have to move with quickly.

Duthie: Some have called for your resignation. Did you at any point consider resigning?

Campbell: Who's called for my resignation?

Duthie: There's been some out in the media certainly and in the public.

Campbell: Well, you'll have to ask my boss Gary Bettman that. I've had many calls from general managers, owners, coaches around the league (saying) this is absurd and hang in there, keep your head up.

Duthie: Personally, you didn't ever consider it?

Campbell: Personally, I've never considered it. I don't call it resigning. I call it quitting, because some blogger - who I don't even want to give him any credit - who's upset, some referee who didn't get his job back is upset. All of a sudden these guys are getting their 15 seconds of fame in interviews. Hopefully our integrity is intact, and with the people that matter. And I've never considered resigning.

Duthie: You've been in the eye of the storm now for 12 years, dishing out on-ice discipline and overseeing the game. How much longer do you want to do this, and does an episode like this makes the answer perhaps shorter?

Campbell: The only time James, that this upsets me…it's not fair in any business when they include your family in your day-to-day job. And I know it's tough because when my son plays in the same league as I work in, it's difficult. It's something I don't like. Apart from that, you're right - 11 years in this, you have to make some tough decisions and do some tough things. I suspended and fined probably my best friend and mentor Roger Nielsen on my first year on the job. I suspended Bob Probert, who I was close to in Detroit when I was the assistant coach there for four games, my first or second year on this job. I've suspended a lot of players I've coached and friends. But it's the tough part of this job. And hopefully they respect what I do.

Duthie: Gary Bettman publicly has given you his full support. Is there anything he's said privately to you that was different than that?

Campbell: No. Obviously when these emails were first requested by the lawyers who were representing this referee with the Ontario Labour Board, I didn't know that they could take your personal emails. I wish I was instructed. Some people have said, 'well, he's learned his lesson.' Well, I don't know if I learned my lesson. I think everyone should know that that's possible. I don't think there's a lesson to learn. I think it's an education that you should be given when they first give you your Blackberry and say use this.

Duthie: It's safe to say you won't write things like this again, I'm guessing?

Campbell: It's safe to say that we haven't and I'm not exactly a wordsmith. We use dressing room talk when we're trying to analyze things and understand things. But I think it's safe to say for everybody when they use their emails.    

Colin Campbell (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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