An ongoing lawsuit between the NHL and former players has unveiled a treasure trove of unsealed emails and documents between the highest level of NHL executives.
The suit alleges that the NHL knew more than it let on about the link between hockey and concussions and didn't diligently educate its players about risks. Almost 300 documents from the case were originally published by the Globe & Mail on Tuesday, revealing candid discussions about fighting, concussions and the sport between some of the most notable and powerful names in hockey.
And we read through all of them so you didn't have to. You're welcome. Here are the most interesting emails we think you should be aware of.
Colin Campbell doesn't hold back
Campbell presided as the NHL's Senior Vice President, Director of Hockey Operations and de facto czar of player discipline from 1999 to 2011. He's the most notable player in the unsealed emails thanks to some vulgar language and opinions.
"Keep your freaking head up"
In October of 2010, then-Penguins GM Ray Shero emailed Campbell (the NHL's player discipline director at the time) about his thoughts on this hit on Islanders winger Blake Comeau from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
Can you give me an idea what you are thinking on the Letang hit?
We are going to get rid of hitting AND lay down every time you are hit. Keep your freaking head up. Shoulder to shoulder! Those are my thoughts! Not to be repeated!!!
"If I had real balls …"
In December of 2008, TSN reporter Bob McKenzie approached Campbell for insight on banning players from removing helmets during fights. He referenced senior hockey player Don Sanderson, who fell into a coma (and eventually passed away) after falling head-first and unprotected onto the ice.
Well, the prognosis on this kid isn't good. Sounds like he might not make it. If it happened in the NHL, what do you think the fallout would be? Hockey player dies or is brain dead as a result of a fight, hitting his head on the ice. It's the game's worst nightmare...
... It is certainly scary ... Stand back a try and knock the guy out so he falls down on something as hard as concrete ... and to think they throw off their helmets lots of times!!!! I guess if I had real balls I would go public and go hard but I won't.
Save the farm
In March of 2007, Colin Campbell went on record as saying "the question has to be asked" whether fighting still had a place in hockey. The following discussion ensued between Campbell and Ducks GM Brian Burke.
Before you call me a "Greenpeace Puke" I only asked the question before the greenpeace pukes accused us of ignoring the question.
I never did-said you were in a position of authority and entitled to your opinion. Pointed out neither "stretcher case" was seriously injured-Fridge just fought the wrong guy. Hate to disagree with you publicly-but we have made this too public a part of our approach. So I have to, reluctantly.
I love a good fight ... If anything this debate "cleanses" our game and provides us with the defense that we did "ask the question". Let the players defend it. They won't take a stand otherwise. We need their support here. Say what you have to have no problem with that. You always will say these things respectfully. Just tell Thornton and Parros not to come and burn my farm down in the summer.
In 2007, Burke and Campbell had another heated argument about Burke's Ducks and their playoff series with the Minnesota Wild. Accusations of threats were made.
Influential media figures make appearances
The unsealed emails offer an interesting look into how notable hockey reporters engage with their NHL exec sources, and the level of influence they either have or believe to have on the league.
McKenzie speaks his mind
In December of 2009, Flyers forward Dan Carcillo knocked out Capitals forward Matt Bradley during a fight. TSN's Bob McKenzie had some interesting comments about Carcillo and Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward (who was sucker-punched as well) in an email exchange with Colin Campbell.
Hey. .one point that was made throught-out the debate on fighting. .the difference in today's game as opposed to "yesteryear" is you DO NOT have to fight if you don't want to. That certainly was not evident with Carcillo and Bradley. Bradley had 2 choices 1)quickly turtle or quickly fight but when the punch landed his gloves were in the air. This was a very poorly masked sucker punch. I know you disagreed with the Non-suspension with Walker but Hospital Ward's (played much tougher on the Bruins last year) actions prior to the incident were totally different than Carcillo's and Bradleys. Plus, I have much more concern with Carcillo's past AND future actions than Walkers. I will probably hear from Snider on this one but that does not bother me
I agree with you. I didn't mind Ward getting punched. He's a little too smug. That'll teach him to be a smartass.
Never a bad thing to suspend Carcillo. He's dangerous. Not all there.
Dreger goes off on Campbell
In November of 2008, TSN reporter Darren Dreger sent Campbell an anonymous survey about player injuries. Campbell's glib response of "You do that." was met with this response:
What are we supposed to ignore the fact players are getting hurt?
Are we not supposed to talk about solutions managers and players want discussed?
It's okay for me to sit on set in front of 800,000 viewers and tell them the persistence of Hockey Ops has paid off and show off a shoulder pad system that may reduce the risk of injury, but you get tweaked by a simple unofficial survey.
Burke has been busting my balls, worried about the medias role in stirring this up and potentially changing, if not ruining the game.
It's not what I think, it's what I know and what I know is there is an appetite to further study this issue.
That's the reason for the survey.
Campbell puts responsibility on players
As you might expect, the unsealed emails shed light on the execs' opinions on specific players and incidents over the years.
Marc Savard hot takes
In March of 2010, Bruins forward Marc Savard suffered a career-ending concussion thanks to a hit from Matt Cooke. NBC analyst Mike Milbury emailed Colin Campbell to tell him he was right for not suspending or fining Cooke:
You should feel good. You got it right in the face of mania and pressure from above I am sure. Being right is better thab being PC
... 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!
What is a "woos"?
In November of 2009, in an email to Gary Bettman, Campbell said Mark Van Ryn was "soft" and responsible for his own injuries after Tom Kostopoulos boarded him.
We had a hit from behind last night ... Montreal on Toronto (Kotsoplous on Van Ryn). Kotsopoulous received a 5 min penalty and kicked out of game.. Toronto scored. Van Ryan is a woos and soft but he ended up with a broken nose and broken hand. He should be penalized and suspended for putting himself in a bad position. We are having a hearing tomorrow for Kotspoulos.
Emotion and the onus of responsibility
And in 2006, Campbell expanded on his views on players being responsible for their own protection to Dreger:
I agree with the fact (Denis Gauthier) is every thing you say but when I watch the hit the Buffalo player is totally openinghimself to being hurt. He is looking back and has opened himself up and put himself in a situation to get hurt by anyone. Gauthier is a slow learner and reminds one somewhat of Marchment. The penalty was properly applied but to give him anymore, in my mind, would be sending the wrong message to players in the sense that we will protect you and you can put yourself in any position yu want ...
My first reaction was .... it didn't look that bad. But, after I saw it on replay and grew more frustrated with the fact it was Gauthier ... my opinion hardened.
I'll assume that's a rule in your office ... never discipline based on emotion.
Don't get me wrong...I would love to sit this guy again ... Having said that, until we take hitting out along the boards there has to be some responsibility with the player with the puck. It is a FINE line and I polled our guys in the room and only one guy thought he should be suspended and not on the play itself but because he is an assehole. I have always been concerned that players can get hurt bad on my watch and I would bear the responsibility of not taking a tough enough stance on these things. As I said, there must be some reponsibility on the puck carrying player to not put himself in the position Vanek did.
Heeding (but mostly ignoring) safety concerns
While it's probably stating the obvious, many of the unsealed emails dealt with concerns of player safety from both sides of the aisle.
"This guy is an absolute freaking idiot!"
In May of 2013, Senators Head Athletic Therapist Gerry Townend forwarded some of his trainers' complaints to Ruben Echemendia, Chair of the NHL's Concussion Working Group. Ruben passed the email, which detailed numerous frustrations the team had with the NHL's concussion protocol, up the chain of command:
They understand there are no definitive solutions but we are the ones dealing with the snake oil salesman everyday and it is becoming tougher and tougher.
We have a major issue with education of our players, still unsure if they get the information they need. The GM's and coaches are still not up to speed in regards to understanding how complicated the issue is. The league does not take it seriously as refereeing is atrocious and that is a major reason we are still seeing head shots
Players do not understand the issue, PA has done a terrible job of educating them
The league has given us nothing in regards to treatment so I have had to turn to Carrick because I have agents and GM's breathing down my neck.
The email ended up in the lap of Campbell, who responded:
This guy is an absolute freaking idiot!
One month later, Campbell had a bit more to say on Townend's concerns:
Since the Ottawa trainer indicted a lot of the other medical trainers I would like to see a show of hands (please write down the names) ... all those trainers who think the atrocious officiating is a major contributing factor to concussed players. Please tell them I want to know and if they don't like it then keep their stupid opinions out of mass distributed emails.
"Enough is enough"
In October of 2011, Predators owner Tom Cigarran took issue with the NHL's ruling that Francois Beauchemin's Oct. 29 hit on Mike Fisher was clean and required no supplemental discipline.
As I have tried to get across, ANY hit to the head MUST be a Major penalty and result in a suspension. We would be the last league to take this position so this is not a RADICAL concept. The cost of our delay is huge in financial terms and In terms of damage to player careers as well.
I fully support Brendan's aggressive enforcement of player safety regs. Last night's hit on Mike Fisher according to our latest rules might have been Legal. This just demonstrates the need to Change the rules.
The "it will change the game" or "we will have our players wearing figure skates" stories show the thinking of the old timers. Our incremental approach to change to mollify them has gone on too long. I intend to bring this up at every owners meeting until the changes are made. Enough is enough.
We have a rule against head "hits" but not head "contact" in conjunction with a "full body check." Let's discuss tomorrow.
Too many experts
In December of 2011, while discussing theories on why the NHL's number of reported concussions were increasing, this exchange occurred between then-Vice President of Hockey Operations Kris King and his colleague Mike Murphy.
I agree with many of your points on why our numbers are increasing, especially the fact that we as a league have put so much onus on teams and players (quiet room) to report all injuries that "may" be a concussion. I also feel today's players don't mind having a week or 2 off during the season, where we never had that option for fear of losing ice time or worse, our spot in the line up. I do agree we are now at the point where we as a group must do all we can to "beat this up" and not with the Charles Tators of the world, just Hockey people as you have stated.
Wish I could add something intelligent but I can't ... so I will say something stupid ... I am a strong believer we are "over doctored"... too many so called experts weighing in who have never been on the field of play... after playing or practicing you don't feel like superman, you're tired and worn out ... once I started playing in the NHL there were not many days when I felt great ... fatigue, sore muscles, bumps, bruises, aches, headaches were common ... you learned to live with them and play with them ... I realize we do have a problem but I think we have enhanced our problem by listening to all these experts
Teams need to do their share too
In November of 2011, emails between NHL Deputy General Counsel member Julie Grand and league Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly highlight a particular concern that's still discussed today, the underreporting of concussions by teams.
But this doesn't take into account the "under-reporting" of concussions that Kinger thinks our Clubs are engaged in BTW, has Reimer been reported as a "concussion" by Toronto?
Right point re the underreporting. I will check re Reimer.
The man of the hour
As the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman would of course be the topic and sender of many emails uncovered in the unsealing.
"Night is young!"
In December of 2011, Bettman struck up a conversation with then-Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan after Sean Couturier of the Flyers was inadvertently hit in the head with a puck from his teammate. The head injury was just the latest in a slew of injuries over that week.
Can you believe this run of injuries. Couturier just took a puck to the head.
Another busy night.
Just a couple plays but one on a Boston player and one on Mtl player. As it turns out I think only the Boston MIGHT get a small suspension. The player picks the head but the NJ players leans "just prior". No injury and no history. Very similar to Malone/Campoli (but in their favor this time)
Any more concussions?
Not so far.
Night is young!
Personal tragedies and puns
Do you remember what happened when we tried to eliminate the staged fights? The "fighters" objected and so did the pa. Eliminating fighting would mean eliminating the jobs of the fighters, meaning that these guys would not have NHL careers. An interesting question is whether being an NHL fighter does this to you (I don't believe so) or whether a certain type of person (who wouldn't otherwise be skilled enough to be an NHL player) gravitates to this job (I believe more likely).
I tend to think its a little bit of both. Fighting raises the incidence of head injuries/concussions, which raises the incidence of depression onset, which raises the incidence of personal tragedies.
I believe the fighting and possible concussions could aggravate a condition, but if you think about the tragedies there were probably certain predispositions. Again, though, the bigger issue is whether the pa would consent to in effect eliminate a certain type of "role" and player. And, if they don't, we might try to do it anyway and take the "fight" (pun intended).
Fighting is a sensitive issue
In September of 2011, Burke was asked by Toronto Star reporter Kevin McGran to clarify an interview Shanahan had done with CBC on the topic of fighting in the NHL.
Can you give me your reaction? Is the NHL moving closer to removing fighting from the game? Or at least imposing new penalties that might reduce the number of fights?
Shanny, I am not commenting on this.
May ask who "we" is? This is news to me.
Are we that worried about being politically correct that we have to say we're looking at it, even if the managers are not? Please advise.
I told Gary and Bill that this question is naturally going to come up to me and how should I answer. "WE" is the NHL and Bill said something last week on a Toronto radio show that was almost verbatim.
I know last night they only showed a portion of what I said.
I'm the new guy and the flavor of the week. The press may consider me an interesting story at THIS moment but I'm sure and I HOPE that it will eventually die down.
i think we went too far. this is sensitive territory and we need to be very careful.