How the heck is Colin Campbell in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Michael Liu
12 days ago
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The list of baffling Hockey Hall of Fame inductees has grown.
As the Hall announced the inclusion of Colin Campbell in the class of 2024, it left a trail of mixed reactions in its wake. Campbell isn’t often in the realm of public awareness for good reasons, and many fans across the NHL don’t have the best impression of him as a player, coach, or executive.
But those are just the feelings, right? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Colin John Campbell was drafted 27th overall in the second round of the 1973 NHL Entry Draft. After a year in the WHA with the Vancouver Blazers, he jumped to the NHL to carve out an 11-year career between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and Detroit Red Wings.
In an age where scoring was at an all-time high, the defenceman put up a career high of … 20 points in a season. Campbell scored 25 goals over an 11-year career when the majority of teams in that era were averaging 4 goals or more per game. He’d finish his playing career with 128 points along with 1292 penalty minutes in 636 NHL games, renowned more for scrappiness than excellence on the ice.
Campbell isn’t going in as a player, though. He’s a builder, and the contributions that he’s made to the game have been immense… right?
After retiring from playing in 1985, Campbell joined Detroit’s coaching staff as an assistant. In the words of Gary Bettman, “he made essential contributions to building the foundation for what would become a dynasty in Detroit.” Sure … if building a foundation meant posting a 17-win season in 1985-86 and getting dusted by the Edmonton Oilers in back-to-back Conference Finals (1987 and 1988) while being outscored 39-26 in 10 games.
Campbell left the Red Wings after head coach Jacques Demers got fired after Detroit missed the playoffs in the 1989-90 season. The dynasty didn’t truly happen until the winningest head coach in NHL history, Scotty Bowman, took the reigns in the 1993-94 season. It’s hard to say that Campbell had much of an influence in developing that.
But Campbell did have a better stint as a coach on the New York Rangers’ staff. He was an associate coach during the 1994 Stanley Cup run and took over as head coach after Mike Keenan left the franchise. “As head coach of the Rangers, Campbell engineered playoff upsets in each of his first three seasons, guiding New York to the 1997 Eastern Conference Final,” said Bettman. Getting those upsets wasn’t easy, but it also ignores the fact that Campbell didn’t get past the second round as head coach with the Rangers until the 1997 Conference Final. The season after that, New York imploded, and Campbell was out the door after 57 games.
In total, Campbell finished his head coaching career with 118 wins, 108 losses, and 43 ties. Certainly not eye-catching numbers even if they are arguably decent. And decent coaching numbers should not get you into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After being fired by the Rangers, Campbell was hired by the NHL as their Senior Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations. He oversaw a number of incidents that Vancouver fans would be familiar with, such as the Brashear/McSorley incident that nearly ended Brashear’s career, and the infamous Moore/Bertuzzi incident. Player safety wasn’t exactly a priority of his.
“He has been central to the crafting of every rule change and technological innovation since – including, perhaps most notably, modernizing and centralizing video review for both in-game rulings and supplementary discipline – all of which have focused on promoting offense, speed and skill, while maintaining the game’s physicality.”
Supplementary discipline? You mean the wheel that DoPS spins with reckless impunity that rarely ever seems to fit the crime?
Modernizing and centralizing video review? Which remains inconsistent and leads to more questions than answers at times? Where the cameras are still grainy for the large majority of the league and the angles don’t really make any sense?
Promoting offence, speed and skill, when the players themselves are the one playing the game and have brought talent to the league like no period ever before them has? It’s odd to try and claim credit for players developing themselves to be the best that they can be.
Campbell’s tenure with the NHL doesn’t really stand out as having revolutionized the game, as Bettman claims. Really, there are two things that he’s known for as an NHL exec: firstly, when Campbell’s emails got leaked in November of 2010, complaining to referees about their calls and trying to protect his son Gregory Campbell. It was clear he was trying to exert unprofessional influence – and one could assume that this had been going on for some time. Calling Marc Savard (who he coached in New York!) a “little fake artist” is definitely a choice.
Secondly, it’s worth remembering when Campbell tried to shame John Scott out of participating in the NHL All-Star game in 2016 after being voted in by fans. It was a massive feel-good story, getting the enforcer into the game where he earned MVP honours – but before then, had been mired in controversy as the league tried everything in their power to stop Scott from playing. Campbell trying to say that Scott’s kids would be embarrassed to see their dad in the NHL All-Star Game? Gregory wouldn’t even sniff the dressing room, thanks very much.
Looking at the facts, it’s clear and obvious that Colin Campbell was an unremarkable player, coach, and executive – and if he was remembered, it wasn’t for doing good for the game of hockey. So why is he in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
Easy. He’s part of the old boys club. He sat on the HHOF committee for 15 years. Bettman clearly adores him. That’s all it takes, apparently. Tow the party line, get paid.
It’s infuriating that a man like Campbell is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, especially at the expense of more well-deserving people. There is no world where Campbell is more deserving than Jennifer Botterill, three-time Olympic gold medallist and 5-time world champion who was instrumental in Canada’s dominance in women’s hockey. There is no world where Campbell is more deserving than Alex Mogilny, who pioneered Eastern Bloc defectors and faced down the wrath of the USSR to become one of the best goal-scorers of the game, the first Russian to be an NHL captain and the first Russian All-Star.
There is no world where Campbell is more deserving than Curtis Joseph, Olympic gold medallist and seventh all-time in NHL wins. There is no world where Campbell is more deserving than Rod Brind’Amour, whose playing career far exceeds anything Campbell has done in all his years of hockey alone, not even discussing Brind’Amour’s trajectory as a head coach with the team he captained to a Stanley Cup.
“In my time in the game, no one has better defined the term “builder,” and no one more richly deserves the call to the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Bettman said.
So many more people than Colin Campbell who deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The only things that he has built are castles in sand.
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