Colin Campbell to step down as league disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan to replace him

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The days of feeling as if the NHL is being run as if a shadow government with conflicts of interest existing in a hush-hush manner are coming to an end.

Colin Campbell, the Senior VP of Hockey Operations for the NHL, will be stepping down from his position as the league disciplinarian at the end of the season. Gone will be the talk of conflicts of interest and perhaps gone with him will be the cloud of mystery that surrounds any and all decisions on punishment (or non-punishment) of players and the “Wheel Of Justice” means that decisions are handed out.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Campbell won’t be stepping down from his VP position, he’ll just be relinquishing his duties as the judge, jury, and executioner of player discipline issues. While that job unto itself is a thankless one with GMs and players around the league constantly in your ear, emails revealed that Campbell was taking advantage of his position in the league to potentially influence calls in favor of his son Gregory, currently with the Boston Bruins. Campbell also lashed out against referees for not calling out dives. Marc Savard caught Campbell’s ire in one email in particular calling him “the biggest faker going.”

Perhaps the breaking point for Campbell came thanks to a radio appearance in April when he was questioned by TSN Radio’s James Cybulski about his decision to not suspend Raffi Torres for his hit on Brent Seabrook during the Canucks first round series against Chicago. Campbell went on a tirade against Cybulski and was angered at having his take on the play and the situation questioned. Campbell sounded like a guy who was at his wits end after a year of having his abilities questioned and the very apparent conflict of interest consistently being discussed. That conflict of interest even spurred a column before the start of the Stanley Cup finals posing some nonsensical conspiracy theories from one Vancouver columnist who once again called Campbell’s conflict of interest into question.

NHL VP of hockey and business operations Brendan Shanahan will take over the position as the league’s disciplinarian. Shanahan is a former all star player over 21 seasons with five different teams (New Jersey, St. Louis, Hartford, Detroit, New York Rangers). Over that time, he knows a thing or two about tough play amassing 2,489 penalty minutes as well as 656 goals and 1,354 points in what will someday be a Hall Of Fame career.

Shanahan is a smart guy and an innovative one on top of all that. What he’ll need to do is to help remove the smoky room aspect to this job and make it far more transparent and consistent. That won’t be easy with 30 GMs always wanting punishment to be tougher on other teams and easier on their own. Shanahan will have to realize that the “old boys” network that seemed to exist under Campbell won’t work anymore and that making sure to punish heinous acts on the ice get to be more understandable to the players and to the public. Getting a guy that’s not far removed from the game (Shanahan retired in 2009) helps that out because he’s got a better understanding of what’s going on out on the ice and has a better idea of the evil that lies in the hearts of some players.

Here’s to hoping this leads to a far more understanding era of punishment in the league.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.

 

NHL suspends Tom Wilson two preseason games for interference

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Capitals forward Tom Wilson has been suspended for two preseason games for interference, after his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Friday’s exhibition game.

The incident occurred early in the third period, as Wilson caught Thomas with a heavy and late hit along the boards at the Blues bench.

“Over a full second after Thomas loses control of the puck, well past the point where Thomas is eligible to be checked, Wilson comes in from the side and delivers a forceful body check, knocking Thomas to the ice,” stated a member of the NHL Department of Player Safety in a video explanation of the suspension.

“In addition to the lateness of the hit, what elevates this hit to the level of supplemental discipline is the predatory nature and force of the hit. Wilson tracks Thomas for some time and alters his course to ensure he is able to finish his hit. Then, with the puck long gone from Thomas’ control, Wilson finishes the check with force.”

The Capitals continue their preseason schedule Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. They also play the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday.

Letang set to return to Penguins lineup vs. Blues on Sunday

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For the first time since February, Kris Letang is expected to be in the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup when they face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

Letang hasn’t played since Feb. 21. He underwent neck surgery in April and missed the entire Stanley Cup playoffs as a result. Despite the absence of their best defenseman, which is a huge loss in Letang, the Penguins were able to overcome that and emerge as champions over Nashville.

According to Pens Inside Scoop on Saturday, head coach Mike Sullivan said Letang will play in Sunday’s Kraft Hockeyville game between the Penguins and St. Louis Blues.

That wasn’t the only Letang news Saturday:

Getting Letang back into the lineup will provide a huge boost to an already strong Penguins team, with his ability to log heavy minutes and act as a catalyst in Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

“I want to be the same player I was before. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do that,” said Letang. “Hopefully everything goes well and I go back to the old way, playing over 25 minutes and in all situations.”

But what is most critical is having Letang healthy, and Sullivan this offseason has stressed to the star defenseman to recognize situations when he should make a simple play rather than risk taking an unnecessary hit.

“When people try to dissect all of that, they make assumptions that they understand, but they don’t,” Letang told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“Mike and I have a clear understanding of what he wants me to do. I think I’m tired of hearing people around it because I had a talk with Mike and Jim. It’s just a way of avoiding those unnecessary hits. It’s not going to be reducing ice time or anything like that. It’s taking a different approach on certain plays.”

Related: Letang isn’t interested in getting less ice time now that he’s healthy

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’