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Monday, November 22, 2010
Five things: Campbell fiasco, Semin's perception, Burns snub in spotlight

By Scott Burnside

1. Handling Campbell situation

At this stage there are no plans for the league's owners and other big brains to discuss the Colin Campbell fiasco and/or the broader issue of how the league handles supplemental discipline at the Board of Governors' meeting two weeks hence in Florida.

The league's position on this is simple, there are no plans to discuss either topic because neither is an issue.

OK then, off to the first tee.

But surely among the 30 owners there is at least one who, having watched all of the discussion surrounding the embarrassing revelation that Campbell made snide if not wholly inappropriate comments to the former head of officiating about, among other things, his son NHLer Gregory Campbell, Marc Savard and the incompetence of some on-ice officials, might raise his hand and say, uh, wait a minute.

Surely at least one owner is wondering if Campbell is the right man to continue in the job. Surely at least one owner is wondering if some discussion of the entire process might actually benefit the game.

Anyone remember the old television series (and before that hit movie) "M.A.S.H."? One of the ongoing bits in that popular series was Col. Henry Blake blithely signing any number of documents Cpl. Radar O'Reilly placed in front of him, a human rubber stamp. The NHL's governors are viewed in much the same way. They receive information, recommendations and the like from the GMs and the competition committee and, generally speaking, nod their heads as one without so much as a single note of opposition.

In this situation, given that the integrity of one of the league's top executives has been brought fairly or not into the spotlight, it would be refreshing to see at least one of the 30 have the temerity to raise his hand and offer up some level of concern. Heck, maybe even ask for some sort of review of the entire process. Even if the league continues to insist the issue doesn't exist.

2. Semin changing perception


Regardless of just how many goals he scores and how many points he puts up, there has always been a temptation to be dismissive of Washington Capitals winger Alexander Semin. In general he was considered a strictly one-dimensional player that, while wildly gifted, couldn't be counted on in the crunch.

Quietly, that notion is changing, at least internally, as head coach Bruce Boudreau turns to Semin more and more in key situations, including using him more frequently on the penalty kill even as he continues to pile up the points.

"It was a work in progress last year," Boudreau said this week. Sometimes Semin would cheat while killing penalties, worried more about creating a scoring chance.

"Now he's a lot better at it," said Boudreau, who recalled that GM George McPhee watched Semin in a more complete role for Russia at the World Championships two years ago and that sparked the idea that he could take on a bigger role with the Caps.

Boudreau and regular linemate Brooks Laich both pointed to a maturity in Semin's game.

"I think he's become consistent which is the opposite of streaky I guess," Boudreau said.

Laich thinks Semin's game can be marked by what he's not doing and not necessarily by what he is doing.

"I think he's limited his faults," Laich told ESPN.com, like cutting down on bad penalties and turnovers and knowing when to make the simple play.

How good is Semin, who began the week tied for second in the league in goals (14) and tied for third in points (26)?

The temptation is to suggest the sky is the limit. Two years ago today, for instance, Semin had 13 goals, 14 assists and was second in the league in scoring behind Evgeni Malkin, but injuries cost him 20 games and he still finished with 79 points in 62 games.

Laich, for one, thinks the 26-year-old deserves to be considered among the best in the league.

Laich rhymes off the names of captain Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and Semin and said, "I would put those three guys up against anybody."

"They have to be top five in the NHL," he said.

Even though he's been in the league since the 2003-04 season, Semin's command of the English language remains rudimentary at best. Still, through new PR staffer Sergey Kocharov, Semin told ESPN.com that he feels honored Boudreau has enough confidence in him to use him in a variety of situations, including killing penalties.

"I'm very excited that he's trusted me to be on the penalty kill," Semin said. "I'm happy that he's given me that responsibility."

What makes the Semin situation so intriguing is that if he can indeed remain a consistent contributor, the Caps' chances of getting over the playoff hump increase dramatically. It won't hurt Semin's bankbook, either, as he can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the coming season.

3. Ladd is Thrashers best choice


Although the Atlanta Thrashers waited until the season was almost a quarter over to make a decision on naming a captain, head coach Craig Ramsay and GM Rick Dudley made what appears to be the only logical choice in sewing the "C" on Andrew Ladd's jersey.

Ladd, a role player on Cup-winning teams in Chicago and Carolina, has blossomed into a go-to guy in the Thrashers' locker room, leading the team with 21 points in 21 games.

When we sat down with Dudley before the season, the new Thrashers GM pointed to Ladd as a crucial piece to the evolving Atlanta puzzle. Although Ladd has never hit the 20-goal mark in his career, Dudley felt the former fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft had the potential for that and more given the expanded role envisioned for him in Atlanta. And Ladd has thrived under Ramsay. Not that Ladd's point totals were the only factor or even a consideration in honoring him with the captaincy.

"I think he plays hard every night," Ramsay said. "He's done everything. We've used him in every situation and he's responded. He earned the right."

Ladd's calming presence in the Atlanta locker room will be key in prodding the young team into the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history. But if there's one thing going for Ladd, it's his ability to draw from his own experience.

He's watched a young captain in Jonathan Toews grow into the role in Chicago. And he watched veteran Rod Brind'Amour set the tone for a Carolina team that won a Cup coming out of the lockout.

The challenge, he told ESPN.com, will be finding the right moments to say something and when to hold back, when to address a player in private as opposed to saying something publicly.

One thing that will come naturally to Ladd will be the ability to lead by example, a characteristic that all great leaders seem to possess.

4. Hall selection committee under spotlight


With the passing of much-loved former coach Pat Burns to cancer on Friday, Burns' snub by the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee has once again became a talking point. We, like almost every hockey fan and/or observer with an opposable thumb, lamented the selection committee's oversight last June when Burns did not secure enough votes for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Instead the committee saw fit to induct marginal (in terms of Hall of Fame credentials) player Dino Ciccarelli along with former Calgary Flames owner D.K. "Doc" Seaman and longtime Detroit executive Jim Devellano in the builder category, along with two women, Angela James and Cammi Granato, in the newly established women's category.

The selection process, often under assault from the outside, has never had its integrity more questioned than with the Class of 2010.

With Burns' passing, the selection committee will once again be under the spotlight and things don't look to get any easier for a group that includes some of the most respected men in the game.

Let's assume they get it right and induct Burns next year.

Once again the committee will come under a hail of criticism for having waited a year too long to honor Burns. Worse, it will look as though they simply knuckled under to the pressure of missing the chance to induct Burns while he was still alive, even though everyone knew he was gravely ill.

The only way the Burns induction does not become sullied is if the selection process undergoes a significant change before the 2011 class is announced next June. A number of members of the selection committee have been lobbying for changes to the process.

Ultimately, if the Hall wants to avoid tarring future inductees with needless controversy, the committee needs to find a way to do away with the Byzantine process that marks the current process. The selection committee needs to make the selection process more transparent, as is the case with other sports.

Here's hoping they can find a way to do the right thing if for no other reason than to ensure that Burns enters the Hall of Fame as the worthy inductee he is without having the moment diminished by the Hall's own flaws.

5. Richardson family tragedy


A final word on an inconceivably difficult week for former player and current Ottawa assistant coach Luke Richardson and the Senators. Richardson's teenage daughter Daron, 14, took her own life last weekend. Instead of following what would have been the natural reaction, to close ranks, to turn in and away from the tragedy, the family bravely turned outward. The Richardsons celebrated their daughter's life at a memorial attended by some 5,000 people. The decision not to ignore what happened -- a press release confirming Daron's death included the cause of death, a marked departure from how these matters are normally handled -- allowed for greater discussion of the issues of teen suicide and mental health.

Who knows what good will come from an indescribably difficult time for the Richardsons, but one has to believe their handling of the moment ensures that some good will indeed come from this pain. Beyond that, kudos to the Senators, who changed their travel plans to return home for the service and then jetted to Carolina for a game that night. That the Senators lost in Carolina that night will be but a footnote to the greater story of how an organization rallied to be at the side of one of its own. There are some NHL teams that could learn a valuable lesson from the Ottawa Senators on what it means to be professional.