Game Misconduct: Flames Sitting Ducks for Campbell’s Justice

By Tony Bryson

Dear Mr. Campbell;

In regards to the latest news coming from the NHL offices, surrounding the Saturday game between Anaheim and Calgary, allow me to offer the following comments.

Congratulations for the job you have done in making the NHL offices look even more ridiculous than they have in the past. I didn’t think that anyone could do a job worse than Brian Burke, but you definitely surpassed his level of incompetence. Your approach to dispensing “justice” has taken on a life of its own and has spurned much debate in regards to your approach for cleaning up the game. As opposed to formulating a consistent methodology in dealing with offenders, you have allowed many an ugly precedent to slide, instead choosing to deal with the perpetrators on a case-by-case basis and allow your own personal feelings and relationships to cloud your judgment. The perfect example was this past weekend’s clash between Anaheim and Calgary, where you suspended three men from the Flames organization and only one from the Ducks.

The game in question was very rough from the outset, and the officiating was some of the worst that has been seen in a good long time. The frustrations were high on both sides of the ice and something was bound to happen. Zero control of the game was displayed by either referee (Greg Kimmerly and Brad Meier), which exacerbated an already dangerous situation. Had either of these officials been competent in their duties the end result never would have transpired. Unfortunately neither official showed they had the ability to handle a game at the NHL level and the troubles intensified.

Late in the third period, Calgary’s Craig Berube took a run at Anaheim goaltender JS Giguere and was penalized. For the first time in the game one of the officials actually made a correct call. Berube was handed a double minor for his indiscretion. Two for charging Giguere, and two for punching the Duck’s Niclas Havelid in the face. If the officials had any feel for the game, and had any sense what so ever, they probably would have tacked on a ten-minute misconduct and put an end to the tensions. Unfortunately they did not and allowed the situation to boil over. The thing that really put egg on the face of the NHL is that these “professional” officials did not even have the where withal to comprehend what was going to happen next. It was clear to everyone in the building but the two men in charge of the match.

Bryan Murray sent Kevin Sawyer and Denis Lambert over the boards to work the power play for his team. I’m not sure if you watch hockey since you quit the game, or just watch those marvelous tapes the teams send to you, but neither of these players are recognized for the ability to work the puck around and generate scoring opportunities. The fact that Sawyer had two minutes worth of power play time for the season, and that his pal Lambert had a whopping ten minutes, obviously never registered when you were considering the actions of the coaches. Bryan Murray was sending a message with the presence of these two less than skilled players being on the ice. Murray knew what he was doing, and perpetrated the primary indiscretion for this melee. He sent the players out to perform the acts they did. A greater level of responsibility should be acknowledged in this regard.

The players that were involved from the Duck’s side also should have been hit harder than the paltry sum that you handed out. Their actions were premeditated and cowardly. Kevin Sawyer dumped the puck in on Calgary goaltender Mike Vernon and charged him in his crease, leveling a crosscheck across the facemask of the goaltender. I think this is where I should remind you about your “stance” on blows to the head that you have been so level handed in dealing with in the past few months. Not only did Sawyer charge a player, hit him in the head with his stick, but did so to a goaltender who was prone in his protective crease. Do you see the difference between what Berube did (run into a goaltender “behind” the net) and what Sawyer did? The fact that Sawyer had discarded his stick and gloves before anyone from the Flames had a chance to react shows some pretty good intent. He was going to gain retribution for Berube’s hit on Giguere on this shift, no matter what the cost. The ensuing melee was a direct result of those actions.

It’s obvious to no one, but yourself, that the Calgary Flames were looking to start something. On the ice at the time was the NHL’s leading scorer, Jarome Iginla. If you’re going to start something that is definitely the player you have out on the ice. Well Anaheim’s Denis Lambert took full advantage of the situation and jumped Iginla immediately after Sawyer’s indiscretion on Vernon. Lambert had “prepared” himself for battle by loosening off his tie down (gee, I thought that was a suspendable offense) and leaving his elbow pads on the bench. Unfortunately Lambert is not the brightest bulb in the socket and did not realize that Iginla can fight. After a few minutes of Lambert repeatedly hitting Iginla’s fist with his face, the linesmen jumped in and saved Denis any future humiliation. So were Lambert’s actions a spontaneous act? Or did these seem to be premeditated in some way? The loosened tie down and the missing elbow pads seem to be the smoking gun at this crime scene.

This is where it gets really interesting, especially the NHL’s approach to reading the situation. According to the NHL offices Calgary’s Greg Gilbert went out of his way to put Bob Boughner, Denis Gauthier, Clarke Wilm and Steve Begin on the ice to kill the remainder of the penalty. I think someone missed something. Calgary’s top defensive pairing for killing penalties is Derek Morris and Robyn Regher, both unavailable. Morris was in the press box with an injury and Regehr had just been tossed from the game from the last altercation. The next pair naturally available on defense was Boughner and Gauthier. Clarke Wilm is Calgary’s top defensive forward on the penalty kill and Steve Begin has been recognized for his strong defensive work in the minors. Where is the indiscretion here? Maybe there wasn’t one after all? But according to the NHL offices, Greg Gilbert iced a “goon” lineup and “instructed” his players to engage the opposition in the series of fights that took place. The idea of this is just comical. An ex-player, like yourself, should know just how ridiculous this assumption is. The only area where Gilbert could be considered at fault was his leaving Berube on the ice to finish the game. But based on the actions of Bryan Murray, I don’t see this as being outside the boundaries of fair play.

There were other actions that make one wonder if you bothered to watch the tape of the action at all. Not suspending repeat offender Ruslan Salei for a head butt during a fight was one that made me shake my head. The suspension of Calgary’s Scott Nicol for the “phantom loogie” that was nowhere to be seen on game tapes was also suspicious. A guy gets two games for an “alleged” spitting incident, but a well-documented head butt goes without punishment?

As a writer I have no problem with suspensions to players, coaches and teams who play outside the rules. I applaud the NHL for suspending Craig Berube for his actions of chasing down Jeff Friesen and laying a beating on the prone player. What I do take an offense to is seeing a gross injustice passed down by the league offices. It takes two to tango, and the Anaheim Might Ducks were more than willing participants in this fiasco. It is obvious to all those who witnessed the action where the primary indiscretion was and who was responsible for the display at the end of the game. The smoking gun was there for all to see, but the NHL offices, your office in particular, ignored the obvious facts and swept them under the rug. I’m not sure how you can honestly sit in the NHL’s ivory towers and try to make people believe that Greg Gilbert is solely responsible for the actions that took place, and Bryan Murray is innocent. One coach sent two players out to wreak havoc, while one coach watched as his players responded in a manner in which they felt was appropriate. Murray sent his players over the boards knowing what they were going to do. Two of those players had no reasonable right to be on the ice in the particular situation under the given circumstances. Gilbert put a responsible lineup out on the ice, and his players reacted on their own accord. The difference is very plain to see.

The justice that you served up makes no sense what so ever. One team gets hammered for their part in a very embarrassing situation for the league. If both had been disciplined, and punished in a way that fit the crime for the transgressions that took place, then the league comes off looking great. But true to form, there is no consistency in the NHL justice system, and the league comes off looking like fools. In the past the league has been heavy handed in its approach to dealing with thugs that attack star players. Yet in this instance, one in which the NHL’s leading scorer was sucker punched, your office did nothing to the perpetrator of the act. Remember that the next time that Paul Kariya gets attacked or Joe Sakic absorbs a cheap shot. Berube got three games for jumping Friesen, yet Lambert gets nothing for an obviously premeditated act against the top scorer in the game. The logic of that move completely escapes me. You have set yet another ridiculous precedent that makes no sense, even to those with the dullest intellect.

The outcry from this incident has been extremely interesting. It has left many scratching their heads and wonder if the NHL “old boys club” had a significant role in your decision. Based on the evidence at hand, this was far from a just verdict. To compound the frustration the fans are feeling, the communication coming from the league offices has also been questionable. There is evidence to support complaints from fans who have contacted you in regards to this subject that your have been less than professional. I suspect that it would be yet another black eye for the league should those responses happen to hit the mainstream media. I think you should carefully consider your next actions.

Do us all a favor Mr. Campbell, resign. Turn in your gavel and take up golf. You obviously do not have the capabilities to be an impartial judge of events. You definitely have shown that you do not have the intestinal fortitude to make the tough calls when required, nor the ability to make consistent judgements. The only thing that you consistently do provide is fodder for the media and the opportunity to make jokes at the league’s expense. I suspect that the best thing for the NHL would be for you to be in a position where your most difficult decision in a day is whether you hit a five or six iron on your next shot.


Tony Bryson