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NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 28, 2007
GARY MEAGHER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the conference call this afternoon. This is Gary Meagher in the Toronto office. I'm going to begin by reading the news release that we've just put out, and then the Executive Vice President, Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell will be available for questions. We'll start with questions from the media that are here in the Toronto office, then we'll open it up to those on the conference call.
Flyers forward Steve Downie has been suspended for 20 games by the NHL without pay as a result of delivering a hit to the head to Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond during NHL preseason game on September 25th.
The incident occurred at 2:39 of the second period, and Downie was assessed a match penalty under Rule 21 for deliberate injury of an opponent.
Over the last several months the league has met with players, coaches, general managers and owners on the subject of hits to the head, said NHL Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell.
While all of the stakeholders in our league agree that hitting is an important part of the essence of the NHL game, all were also unanimous in the belief that where a player deliberately targets an opponent's head, the conduct should be subject to review and the possible assessment of supplemental discipline.
Continuing the quote - Specifically the following factors were identified as being relevant to whether a player should be subject to supplemental discipline when a hit to an opponent's head is involved: One, when a player targets an opponent's head. Two, when a player launches himself by leaving his seat to hit a player in the head area. Three, when the hit to the head is delivered to an unsuspecting opponent. And four, the timing/lateness of the hit.
An additional factor in considering whether discipline is appropriate is whether the player is a repeat offender.
Continuing the quote: When any or all of these factors combine to cause an injury to an opponent, it was agreed that a player would be subject to supplemental discipline in the form of a game suspension. When all or substantially all of the factors are involved, it is clear that the suspension should be more severe.
It is clear that while Mr. Downie is not a repeat offender, all of the other factors identified as being particularly relevant in determining the appropriateness of discipline were involved in Downie's hit on Mr. McAmmond. The hit was deliberate, dangerous, and has no place in our league, Mr. Campbell added.
Under the terms of the CBA and based on his average salary, Downie will forfeit $63,101. The money goes to the Players Emergency Assistance Fund. Downie will miss the first 20 regular season and/or playoff games, in addition to the last Flyers preseason game this Saturday versus the Rangers that he is a member of the Flyers 23-man roster.
I'll now turn it over to Colin Campbell, and we'll take questions first here, and then we'll go to those on the conference call. Colie?
Q. Can you characterize what Steve Downie did to Steve McAmmond? What you saw?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Characterize? We had requested this be put on the agenda for the board of governors. As a result, the general managers looked at a number of hits. We had 52 hits from last season that were not suspendable hits, but hits where shoulders were delivered to the head.
And from that meeting on, the general managers in June, it was in Ottawa in the finals, the Competition Committee met and reviewed the same hit.
We convened a group of coaches in late July, early August as well as having talked about the draft to a number of coaches, assistant coaches as well. We had six coaches that were brought in here and we discussed what we had found.
At the end of the day, there were a number of criteria that the groups didn't like, and any of those criteria could get you suspended. At the same time, we wanted to keep hitting in the game of hockey. And legal shoulder checks to the head would be allowed if they were delivered in a legal fashion.
In this case, we felt that -- and we don't always do this. There are times I call certain people in the league, not involved in this, but involved in the actual group meetings we had this past summer, we discussed that with those people. I discussed with those people, and said this is exactly what we were talking about all summer long in every area - targeting the head, launching one's self, every aspect.
And unfortunately Steve Downie participated in all aspects of what the groups didn't want to see in the game of hockey. So that's how it was characterized. That he crossed the line, and crossed the line in a whole heartedly way.
Q. How did you feel personally when you saw the hit?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, it's a hit that as soon as you see it happen live, and I happen to be watching the game live that night. Live, I mean on television. As soon as you see the hit you're going, I think this -- as soon as you see it live you think this is going to be a bad one.
Just based on the fact that Downie's position in the air, then when you look at the other aspects, where the puck was released, and it's not hard to identify that with all the work we have done this past summer, and all the videotape we've watched and all the feedback we've gotten from groups.
Q. How did Downie react to the suspension?
COLIN CAMPBELL: I don't know. He was here in an in-person meeting this morning. And I called Paul at the airport on the way to Washington. So I let Paul know, so I don't know how Steve Downie reacted.
Q. Is this a clear message to the players that you're taking hits to the head more seriously than you have in the past. And in essence, are you making an example of Steve Downie?
COLIN CAMPBELL: No, that -- if you didn't ask that question, it was going to be asked sooner or later, and it was sooner.
We sent out a tape. We made a tape after all these meetings and every team in the league received this tape for their players. And we sent out a supplementary discipline reminder which we do every year. We also included what was read on the press release regarding all the criteria involved.
So the players are fully aware of what's not acceptable now. And that's what the Competition Committee is about. The players participated until the Competition Committee and that is what they didn't want to see in the game. They're the ones on the ice, they're the real key stakeholders. It's their careers that are out there.
So we sent that tape out, that was the message. This isn't the message. That was the message. I didn't think it was going to happen this soon, and I didn't think it would be this clearcut.
There were going to be a couple criteria we'd have to rule on. Did he launch himself, was the timing going to be off? But the severity and the suspension was because of all the criteria were almost -- it was a pass, pass, pass, pass, pass on all the criteria with the exception of the repeat offender. And the reason for that is this is Steve Downie's first year in the National Hockey League.
Q. 20 games is on the Flyers roster. If you go down to the AHL do they have to honor the suspension?
COLIN CAMPBELL: They can do whatever they want. But the games don't count in our league. That's up to Dave Andrews and the American Hockey League. In the past, the National Hockey League -- honor is not the right and proper word -- but we don't honor or respect. Those are the wrong use of words, but they serve it at that league, and he serves in our league.
And the lawyers will tell you that it's a legal question as well, other than if it's a suspension that has to deal with an official.
Q. Retaliation's got to be a big issue for obvious reasons. We know that the league talked to him. What was the message to Brian McGrattan and anyone that retaliates?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, the game of hockey takes into consideration payback to some degree, and lots of it is instances. You hear about the player, for whatever reason, I don't agree with what they say, so they can take care of what they have to take care of themselves. But in this case you can't just issue threats.
We saw that in the Bertuzzi-Moore situation, it's ridiculous to do that. And I had a discussion with Brian McGrattan yesterday, and he understands that. And hopefully Brian McGrattan and the Ottawa Senators understand that. You don't do that. If something happens, nothing will happen, you just can't do that.
Q. What do you say to critics who say this will stiffen up the penalty? One player this week said he should be banned from the game for life. What do you say to people who say this isn't hard enough?
COLIN CAMPBELL: There is a reason we do our job, and a reason, as we said, we don't operate in a vacuum. We had lots of input from owners, managers, coaches and players who have all been involved in the game a long, long time. And hitting is part of our game, and will always be, I hope, part of our game. It's part of the game of hockey.
As far as critics saying this isn't long enough, I think this is a steep, severe suspension. And if that player who wants it increased, he has an avenue through the NHL Players Association through the Competition Committee to state his case.
Q. The first question I want to ask you is there's been no real precedent for this type of suspension. Why did you give him so many games?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Why did we give him so many games? Well, we had looked at, as I said, we've done a lot of work on this. And did I expected the first blow to the head, illegal blow based upon the criteria we arrived at over the summer it was going to add up to 20, no? Neither did I think that all the criteria were going to be involved in one play.
And in the future we understand that having issued a 20-game suspension took play after this kind of hit was, it's going to have people speculating every time it's a hit delivered and a player gets hurt.
And we're not foolish enough to think there won't be injuries in the game of hockey through body checks. And every time there is a body check and there's an injury, the question's going to be asked how many games? Well, body checking is still allowed in our game. And there will be injuries. It's when those body checks are delivered in an illegal fashion and we'll have to determine that.
And we don't want the players at all to be worried about delivering a hit. They're professionals. They understand, and they understand probably more than anybody how a hit should be delivered and when and where and what's illegal and what's not legal. We've explained that clearly on our discipline memo as well as on the videotape that we distributed to every team in the league.
Q. What are the criteria governing this type of hit?
COLIN CAMPBELL: It's on, I don't want to repeat it again, because there are a lot of people here. But it's on the memo that's being distributed by us and Gary Meagher going into this press conference. You probably weren't on it to begin with.
Q. So we can understand, if the Steve Moore hit on Marcus Naslund happened today, would that still be a zero-game suspension?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Okay, you're testing my memory here. I still think it would be a zero-game suspension. I don't think -- I'd have to watch it again based upon the criteria. I don't think he obviously lunged, because I think Marcus Naslund was kind of down low. But again, I'd have to watch it again to really apply the criteria that we determined last summer. But my gut still tells me no.
Q. Part of the reason I ask that is the follow-up you referred to, and that is when Brad May issued the bounty or comments. When you hear the McGrattan's comments, are you not tempted to just suspend him, maybe even for the games that they play against each other? Is this the kind of thing you want in the NHL? And if it goes unpunished, what is to stop it from happening again? And I know what you'll probably say something like, Well, watch the game and see what happens. But isn't that too late once the public perception gets out there that there are some sorts of bounties or paybacks?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, because you said it maybe what are players thinking? Do we suspend them? If he said it, we deal with it now, and we don't suspend him for saying that unless we feel the statement was over the top.
We've dealt already with Bryan Murray and that was enough. If he's foolish enough to do something stupid, it's going to, as I said, just take a look what happened in the other situation and I had a discussion with Bryan Murray about that.
This is not only Brian McGrattan's area of concern now, it's the whole Ottawa organization's area of concern because Brian McGrattan said that.
Q. You don't feel it's too late if something happens after the case like it did in the Bertuzzi matter?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, you're speculating now. We hope none of those things happen, but we'll deal with it if something happens.
Q. Two questions: Can you give me an idea -- there was so much outrage by players who saw the hit who were universally condemning. Some who said ban him. But everybody said you have to treat this one severely. How much does the players, the community of hockey in the NHL and the players reaction because they know the lines and what goes and what doesn't go. How much does that play into your decision? And I have a follow-up.
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, I tried -- this is a little bit longer than we normally take to render a decision after a situation takes place. This happened Monday night, Tuesday night, and now it's Friday. Normally, we act the next day. However, this had some different overtones and obviously severe repercussions to it, so we took a couple days longer. And being an in-person hearing it usually takes another day yet.
But I would say that I tried not to -- I tried to stay as free as I could from any outside influences and just dealt with what I had to deal with as far as the stakeholders themselves and what we dealt with this summer.
As far as the comment that's you're referring to, if players are commenting on this, they're the key stakeholders. It's about their careers and about protecting their heads. And there are certain players in the game that play different styles. Some score goals, some are finesse players, some do a lot of hitting. They understand what should be involved in the game of hockey.
And even if you played the game like I have, it's been so long ago, things changed now whether you're a coach or manager now. I think you need that input from players and that's why the Competition Committee has been very helpful for us.
And as I said, we beat this topic up hard with the Competition Committee. And they represented the players, and I think they did an excellent job. You're talking about players like Shanahan, and Iginla, and Rob Blake who has been around a long time. They're not adverse to physical play themselves. But when you cross that line, no player likes it when they cross the line. They'll probably give you the most truthful answer of all. Other than if it's an Ottawa player or Phillie player, I think the two are emotionally involved.
Q. And the fact that Downie apologized publicly after the game and in the phone call to McAmmond, I guess, perhaps yesterday. How much had he not done that might that have affected the length of suspension? How much did that weigh into your decision?
COLIN CAMPBELL: I don't think that's a real important criteria. It's nice of the young man to do that, and from Dean McAmmond's position it's nice. But as far as part of the discipline structure, it's not part of our structure.
Q. You had mentioned as part of your statement that this was a deliberate and dangerous hit and had no place in our league. And I wonder how you define or determined basically what is dangerous in this kind of case?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, again, going into this press conference, Gary Meagher read the statement, and we had established criteria. And there are five criteria as far as late, as far as targeting the head, as far as leaving your feet and launching yourself. There are a few others, repeat offender, et cetera, so that's on the press release.
And as far as saying that that's one thing, as far as feeling it and knowing it, myself, Mike Murphy, Chris King, all of hockey operations have worked as we said on this press conference time and time again with the stakeholders of the game, being the players, coaches, managers and owners on what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. This has been distributed to all of the teams. The players have watched it.
And we'd be fools if we didn't do anything. We wouldn't be worth having a department if we didn't act on this after telling the players that we would act on it. And the players have asked us to act on it. So they want to have a tough game, they want to have a hitting game, but they want a safe game as well.
Q. The other night in the Rangers-Islanders game, Andy Sutton came up high on Callahan with an elbow. After the game, Tom sort of referenced the videotapes that you did send out. And he characterized that as one of the hits that you're trying to get rid of. My question is you see that hit, and why did that one not result in penalties?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, I talked to Andy Sutton yesterday morning. I received that tape. We can't act as quickly, because we don't get the games like we get them during the season when they're televised.
But that really wasn't part of what we're clamping down on. That was something we've always clamped down on. Andy Sutton was suspended before for a hit like that against the glass. And this is an elbow he launched that did not injure the player, and the player ducked to get out of the way. And I fined Andy Sutton for that play itself, and warned Andy Sutton that this is a suspendable offense. And whether you're 6'6" and he's 5'8", it doesn't matter.
So as far as a legal blow to the head, that wasn't legal, that was illegal. But there was no injury, and I don't think he made complete contact from what I saw there was no injury on the play.
Q. How big of a factor is injury as far as how much discipline does come out after that?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Injury is important. Last year Chris Pronger throws an elbow and doesn't make contact, he gets nothing. Chris Pronger throws an elbow and makes contact with the head, it's a two-minute penalty. Because there's a two-minute penalty for elbowing, if you elbow a player in the head, the shoulder, the arm, the rear end. If he causes an injury that, player has to be accountable for the injury he causes.
So that certainly is a key factor, and we've made that point. If you cause an injury, get ready, you could be susceptible to a suspension and a long suspension.
Q. I'm just wondering, I know that Mr. Downie was considered a first-time offender by league standards. But I'm just wondering if his history in the Ontario Hockey League had any bearing on the suspension? And secondly, I'm still a little unclear as to what happens if he is sent down to the American Hockey League?
A - can he play in the American Hockey League if he's sent down? And if they choose to honor the suspension does that take games off the NHL suspension or is he suspended 20 NHL games regardless of whether or not he plays in the American Hockey League?
COLIN CAMPBELL: He's suspended for 20 games in the National Hockey League. It's I understand your question, we've discussed this and thrown this around. There are implications as far as the cap count on the Philadelphia Flyers. There are implications on the roster, the 23-man roster. And how they look at this suspension and how they deal with the American Hockey League, that's up to Dave Andrews.
We treat theirs the same way we treat ours. We've got our own issues and they've got their own issues. But he has to serve 20 games in this league. And in the past, players were allowed to play in the other league, being it our league or the AHL, depending on suspension. But they had to serve the suspension in the league they received the suspension in.
Q. And what about his past as an Ontario Hockey League player? Did that come into play at all in your thinking in this one?
COLIN CAMPBELL: Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't aware of Steve Downie's -- if you follow hockey at all, you follow hockey in all leagues as we all do here. However, when they come to our league, he has a clean slate. And we do not consider what he did in any other league and repeat offender is only what he does in the National Hockey League.
We have different rules here. There could be a player that hit the head legally in the OHL and got suspended. We don't look at that kind of play in our league level, so there's different aspects to that. And there's a legal aspect to that, too.
So he had to be considered a first time offender, which we did do. And that is probably the only criteria that did not cut it when we looked at the hit that he laid on Dean McAmmond the other night.
GARY MEAGHER: Thank you very much, everyone.
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