By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Things are unraveling a bit for the National Hockey League, as a lawsuit against the league has led to the unsealing of many internal emails shared among top NHL executives.
And while the Globe and Mail posted nearly 300 pages of emails, there was at least one in particular that related to the Boston Bruins.
It’s an email from Colin Campbell in March 2010. At the time, you’ll remember, Campbell was in charge of doling out discipline for illegal or dirty hits, especially ones that resulted in injury. Long before Brendan Shanahan, and long before those Department of Player Safety videos, the onus fell on Campbell to make the decisions.
And so, when Campbell ruled to not punish Matt Cooke in any way for his late, blind-side hit to the temple of Marc Savard — a hit that would ultimately prove catastrophic to the all-star center — there was quite a bit of furor. That was especially the case in Boston, as you might imagine.
But Campbell’s decision to issue no punishment whatsoever to Cooke was one that left the NHL’s senior vice president feeling quite satisfied with himself.
Campbell, now the NHL’s president of hockey operations, sent this email to “mikemedia1” on March 13, 2010. A cursory Google search shows Mike Milbury as the owner of MikeMedia1, LLC. That, in addition to Campbell mentioning mikemedia1’s comments on NESN, indicate that the email was indeed sent by Campbell to Milbury, the former Bruin who was a NESN analyst at the time. Emphasis has been added:
“The mania surfaced on the Lucic hit…not a chance that should be out of the game. I’m sorry to Boston, but someone should teach that young man something about keeping his head up. Hitting is a vital aspect to everything our game is about and we may be adjusting it too much if we are not careful…and give in to the masses. Canada certainly loved Rick Smash Nash running everyone in the Olympics!”
The comment is, in a word, reprehensible.
This was never a case of “keeping your head up.” It was a case of a player taking a shot on net and then having the league’s slimiest player sneak in from behind with an elbow to the side of the head. It would have been literally impossible for Savard to have “kept his head up” to have seen the “hit” coming, unless the league wants all players who take shots to immediately perk up and assume a wrestling pose milliseconds after taking shots.
And when taken in conjunction with a previous set of unsealed emails that showed Campbell calling Savard “that little fake artist” and the “biggest faker going.” Campbell offered no apologies for that characterization of the Bruins forward, instead fighting back harshly against anyone who dared question his integrity and sound decision-making.
But now, clearly, there is too much evidence to the contrary. Nobody saw the Cooke hit on Savard and thought it was a case of a player staring at his skates, or looking back for a pass over center ice, or anything of the sort. It was a dirty hit — one of dozens from Cooke, many of which got him suspended — and it deserved a serious punishment.
More emails from Campbell to Milbury offers a glimpse of the thought process at that time, showing that Campbell did not care much for Cooke but was otherwise impacted by his feelings toward Savard. Again, emphasis added:
“Wish [intent to injure] was [a stand-alone call] or I would have used to get that little RAT [Cooke]. … You need an act to attach to the intent. (Unfortunately)”
“Yes but if we said shoulder checks were ‘in any manner’ we [pooped] the bed on about 10 others this year alone where shoulder checks injured people. Let’s face it Mike…we sell rivalries, we sell and promote hate and when a player hits another player legally we can’t drill him because he’s a king rat! We need a reason…jumped and targeted the head, late, unsuspecting, elbow…none of the above. The little [crap] head knows the rules. Thanks for explaining on NESN, takes balls where they want blood and a lynching in Boston. What Jack Edwards said about Crosby was assinine. [sic]”
Cooke’s hit fits exactly the criteria which Campbell laid out in his own words and most everyone could plainly see … except for Campbell himself, who instead thought Savard should have kept his head up.
It’s disgusting, really, and there’s no other way to put it.
At this point, and even at that moment, there was no punishment that would have fit the crime. Had Cooke been issued even a heavy-handed 20-game punishment, what good would that have done Savard? The Bruins forward gamely tried to come back, playing in all seven games against Philadelphia later that spring despite clearly not being himself. And he attempted another comeback the following winter, but an otherwise innocuous hit along the boards ended his career for good after just 25 games.
Savard’s career was ruined, his life was severely impacted for years, and it likely remains affected to this day. And now he knows that the man in charge of discipline thought Savard was the one who acted improperly on the dirty hit that changed his life.