After no suspension was given to Matt Cooke  for his hit on Marc Savard  ‘ which may have ended the center’s season ‘ Colin Campbell , the league’s vice president and director of hockey operations, spoke with Dennis & Callahan on Friday to discuss the process of giving out suspensions in the NHL .
Bruins fans have been up in arms about the decision not to suspend Cooke, and Campbell gave a response.
‘You think I like what happened to Marc Savard?’ Campbell said. ‘I coached him. I was his first coach for the New York Rangers  when Marc broke in. I didn’t like what happened to Marc Savard, no one likes what happened. You would like to do something to the player who did it. You have to stay consistent and I can’t make up a rule for a play.’
Campbell also discussed the new rule changes next season that would aim to curb hits to the head and warned what could happen if things got ugly in the next Penguins-Bruins matchup.
Read below for the transcript. To listen to the interview, click here .
Would it be a shock to you to know that you are not a fan favorite in Boston?
Really, you think?
We thought you would suspend Cooke so he wouldn’t be on the ice on Thursday? So that’s good that he will play.
You have to be careful, though. I understand that you want to exact justice. We had a hit a few years ago in Colorado and Vancouver, and they didn’t feel that the right thing was done. They thought they would take justice into their own hands, and next thing you know you got a real mess on your hands when [Todd] Bertuzzi  broke [Steve] Moore’s neck. You have to be careful how it’s done.
Explain your logic that the hit on Savard was not a cheap shot that may have ended his season?
I can understand by the tone and what your question is that you don’t agree, but it’s not my line of thinking. We meet regularly with the general managers. We have a criteria we use on these hits. Cheap shots or head shots are elbows and sticks. In hockey, shoulder checks are allowed. I’ve suspended people before when they hit players in the head late and we have criteria for late, this wasn’t late. We have criteria for the players who jump and he didn’t leave his feet. We have criteria when it is unsuspecting, maybe when a player dumps the puck in and his heading to the bench and isn’t expecting to get hit. Marc had just shot the puck and he was in the slot area, so he shouldn’t have been unsuspecting, and we’ve had examples of that before. It certainly wasn’t the popular decision, but you can’t do this job and be the good guys or popular guy all the time. You have to use criteria and be consistent and thinking it was the right thing and not the popular one for sure.
Was Savard not blindsided? Was he not vulnerable? He didn’t see it coming.
Neither did a lot of players that Scott Stevens hit. I’m sure I can pull a few Boston hits where players weren’t suspecting because they didn’t think they were going to be hit, but they were. Unsuspecting is if you are not driving through the hockey area. Marc just shot the puck. We have two other plays where [Jeff] Carter  from Philadelphia hit [Ansi] Samela from New Jersey when he just shot the puck and scored. Same sort of play. Probably the most similar play, [Duncan] Keith from Chicago a pretty good player was hit by [Drew] Stafford from Buffalo, in almost the same kind of play where Keith is shooting on off side as Marc was. He was hit just after he released the puck late, in our estimation of late, and Keith missed four games to a concussion. We looked at it and we said we are not in the area where we are penalizing blows to the head by shoulders and that’s what we went into this meeting before the Savard-Cooke situation. We went into this meeting with the general managers to say I guess it’s time with the speed we generate, with the size of our players that we have to look at this.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you watched this hit in a room with eight people for an hour and a half?
No. We went into the meeting before the Savard hit with this in mind to address shoulder hits to heads. They took this hit into consideration. When we added it to our 150 hits over the past four or five years to address this. WIth my own staff, I have a staff of about seven people that watch games every night. We watched this hit for say an hour.
Did everyone come to a consensus that this hit was clean?
Our staff agreed it was a consensus, even though we didn’t like it. We don’t like Cooke. We don’t like the way he plays or some of the things he does, but we couldn’t find criteria that was consistent with suspending him.
How late is late?
How late do you think it was?
How late do you think it was?
You mean like split-second? I’m asking you. You are the guy that knows the precedence. How late does it have to be to be late in your mind?
We’ve had two hits in the past five or six years that have been more than a second that we suspended, and they were both by the same player, Cam Janssen who is now with St. Louis. I don’t know if you can remember Scott Stevens hit on Paul Kariya in the finals. That was half-a-second late. On our machines you can have 30 clips, for lack of a better term, which adds up to a second. This one was 18. Thirty is one second. When people see this hit, you see it in fast motion, but slow motion looks like three or four seconds late. This one was 18. A little bit over a half-a-second.
That’s not qualified as late?
Not through the criteria we’ve used. We’ve debated this with general managers time and time again. Darcy Regier had the situation where [Chris] Neil hit [Chris] Drury  about three or four years ago when Drury was playing for Buffalo, and he was about 21, which would be maybe three quarters of a second, in that area. They still didn’t determine that as late.
Would what happened to Savard be illegal and suspendable next year
Why can’t they just change the rule instantly?
We are in the midst of trying to do that. The process normally when you make a rule change is the general managers agree at this meeting we have in February or March. It then goes to the competition committee that was established in the last CBA, which has five players on it. We give the competition committe, made up of four general managers and owners, our recommendation on what we would like to do. We need a seven out of 10 in votes, and we need two players of that committee to vote with the general managers. If we don’t then we can’t take it to the board of governor’s to get it ratified. I’ve talked to some people at the PA, and it’s a little bit crazy if we have this hit again, we are going to look a little bit foolish as a league if we are going to have to wait because there is a process in place. If everyone agrees, then we need to address it right now because we don’t want players like Marc Savard or anybody laying at home with concussion syndromes and headaches, etc.
Didn’t you change the rule immediately when Sean Avery  did the thing with the stick?
No. We didn’t change the rule. Don Van Massenhoven was doing the game, he skated over to the Rangers bench and said, ‘This is an unsportsmanlike penalty. You can’t do that.’ Of course the competitiveness of our coaches I got three or four calls the next morning can we do this is this legal. We said no that it is not. So we sent out a memo saying that this play is not legal. They are calling this play unsportsmanlike. The referee in the game went over and said if it persists it is an unsportsmanlike penalty and the players association grieved our process saying we can’t do that we have to call up the competition committee. I said, ‘I can’t call up five players in the middle of a playoff.’ Our teams are playing right now and this is not a rule change, this is interpreting this for you. It wasn’t a rule change in the middle of a game or a season.
Do you worry about somebody taking out a superstar in a playoff series?
I worry about any player, not just the superstar. I understand what you mean from the competitive aspect, but I worry about any player being hurt with a check like this, and I worried all along about this. I think every time you make a rule change you are not sure exactly what is going to come into play. When we changed the rules during the lockout, we took the red line out. We took away hooking, holding and interference. We generated a lot of speed in the game and for example the Washington vs. Pittsburgh series was maybe one of the best series, if not the best in a long time. The finals was great. Having said that, the speed we generated, the contact, the hits that are happening out there now, this is what you have and now we have to address that. On a lot of these plays you have no alternative but to use a body check. You can’t use your stick. You can’t reach out and grab a guy because you will get a penalty. It’s so competitive now that players don’t want to take penalties. They have to use their bodies to stop people and this is what the result is.
A body check to the shoulder or chest is much different to the head.
Exactly. It wasn’t illegal before to use your shoulder to hit a players head. Elbows yes, jumping yes, but not shoulders. What you will get when we change this rule eventually, hopefully sooner than later, you’ll get some players embellishing that they got hit in the head to draw a penalty. They will lay down. We got that when we put the hitting from behind in. Players will jump their feet up, go against the boards and lay dow for a while to try and extract the penalty to win the game. That’s another yin for yang when you make these rule changes.
What if Michael Ryder  decided to go after Cooke and got revenge immediately? Would he be subject to fines from your office?
It depends what he did. If he did something illegal, yes.
Couldn’t you suspend Cooke if you wanted to?
You think I like what happened to Marc Savard? I coached him. I was his first coach for the New York Rangers when Marc broke in. I didn’t like what happened to Marc Savard, no one likes what happened. You would like to do something to the player who did it. You have to stay consistent and I can’t make up a rule for a play. In this case I couldn’t make it up because something is going to happen. The way it works out if something happens in two days and we don’t like the guy, let’s make something up and sit him down. We don’t like him, even though we think it wasn’t OK, he didn’t have to do what he did. When he said intent to injure, it’s got to be for a match penalty for elbowing. A match penalty for intent to injure cross checking. A match penalty for intent to injure for kneeing, for biting, for a sucker shot on a punch after the fight is over. You have to have a reason to match the intent to injure to something.
Sometimes the elbow is part of the upper arm?
I know, but this wasn’t an elbow, it was a shoulder. We looked at everything. Normally we have to make the decision between 10:30 at night and 11 the next morning because our policy is to make a decision before the team plays its next game. In this case, we had from Sunday until Thursday, a rarity for a team not to play that long. We had lots of times to make up things, but we couldn’t make up anything. I wish I could have but we couldn’t.
Does Cooke’s track record not give you more leeway to do something?
Only when we find that the act he did is wrong, then we can jump on him hard. But we have to find out that he was wrong in what he did.
Will you be on high alert when the Penguins  and Bruins meet again?
You blew by my first statment. What happens is not good. Having Marc Savard or any player injured, you don’t like those things. That was our main thrust, concussions. We have to reduce concussions Even though we have a lot of games and we have 50,000 to 60,000 registered hits a year, there is probably 10 to 15 we don’t like. We want to reduce the concussions. Having said that, what happened with Moore and Bertuzzi and the ensuing court cases that are still ongoing, the lawsuits are huge, a $35 million law suit has been registered, ownership, managers, coaches, players have been brought into court. You have to be careful when you get into a situation like this, because it can become a lot bigger than what we have now.