Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Campbell: President and Legend

Hockey Blog In Canada has been running its examination of how the NHL trophies came to be for most of the summer thus far. We've seen former players, former coaches, former managers, and former owners honoured with a major NHL trophy for the work that they have done to build and better the game of hockey through their efforts. Today's trophy takes a look at one of the key men who shaped the NHL as we look at the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy. The trophy is currently awarded annually to the to the Western Conference playoff champions. Essentially, if you represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final, you've earned this trophy. So how did this trophy come about? Who was Clarence S. Campbell? Is there anything interesting about this trophy and its winners?

Clarence Sutherland Campbell was born on July 9, 1905 in Fleming, Saskatchewan. The young man grew up playing hockey before enrolling at the University of Alberta as a teenager. He graduated in 1924 from the University of Alberta with a double-major in law and arts, and decided to further his studies at the famous Oxford University in England where he was a Rhodes Scholar. It was at Oxford where he took up a serious interest in playing hockey again as he joined the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club.

After his university career ended, Campbell began officiating in the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. His notoriety for being a strict but fair referee caught the eye of NHL President Frank Calder. Campbell joined the NHL as a referee in 1933. Campbell was a favorite referee of President Frank Calder, and Calder assigned him to many important games. Campbell was the referee on the night that Howie Morenz broke his leg on January 28, 1937, ending Morenz's career. Campbell was routinely assigned to the toughest playoff series as well. He was the referee on the ice when Bruins defenceman Dit Clapper struck a Montreal Canadiens player with his stick. After Campbell said some unsavoury things to Clapper, Clapper punched Campbell in the face, sending the referee sprawling across the ice. Campbell, realizing that he was in the wrong, sumbitted a report to Calder on the events of the games, and only spoke of the stick-swinging incident. This resulted in Clapper only being fined and not suspended for his actions in the game.

His refereeing career ended in 1939 after a controversial call in Toronto. Maple Leafs captain Red Horner was high-sticked and cut open, but Campbell only assessed a two-minute minor penalty for the infraction despite the blood evidence on Horner's face. Maple Leafs President Conn Smythe was outraged by Campbell's call, and asked for his removal as a referee. The other owners chimed in with their thoughts about his removal, and NHL President Frank Calder was forced to remove Campbell as a referee after 155 regular season games and 12 playoff games of service.

Calder, however, saw more in Campbell and asked him to join the league offices where he would work directly for Calder. This was short-lived as the outbreak of World War II in 1940 began, and Campbell decided to enlist in the Canadian Armed Forces. He moved through the ranks to the post of Lieutenant Major, and was eventually appointed to Queen's Council where he successfully prosecuted several high-profile Nazis for their crimes against humanity during the war.

During Campbell's time overseas, Frank Calder had passed away. Red Dutton stepped into the role of NHL President, but it was one he had no interest in keeping. When Campbell returned to Canada in 1946, Dutton encouraged him to follow in the path that Calder was making for him. Campbell agreed, prompting Dutton to resign, and Campbell became the new President of the NHL.

Campbell earned the respect of the NHL's Board of Governors as they all wanted to make more money. Campbell decided to increase the number of games player so that each team could increase its gate revenue. During his time as President, the NHL teams would eventually play 70 games per season, up from the 48 they were playing when he took over. The players also saw benefits as he spearheaded the movement for the NHL Pension Plan to which both the players and the league would contribute monies.

In 1950, he decided that the broad expanse of territory and minor-league teams that the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs held would be controlled. He introduced the Inter-League Draft after the Bruins and Black Hawks were struggling mightily as they had no minor-league system setup like the Canadiens and Maple Leafs had. These systems, of course, was due to Frank J. Selke as he had worked tirelessly in building a talent pool for both the Leafs and Canadiens during his time with those teams. Campbell decided that more talent in the league would be beneficial, and he created a dispersal draft system in which teams could cherry-pick talent off other teams' unprotected rosters. A good example of how the Inter-League Draft was a successful talent dispersal tool was how goaltender Tony Esposito became a Black Hawk after being property of the Montreal Canadiens. Esposito was left unprotected in 1969 during the draft, and the Black Hawks selected him in the draft. Esposito, of course, went on to have an extremely successful career with the Black Hawks.

In 1955, Campbell's most (in)famous act as President came to be as he suspended Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice "The Rocket" Richard for the remaining three games in the season and the entire playoffs for abusing an official. Richard punched linesman Cliff Thompson during a melée between the Canadiens and Bruins on March 13, 1955. Fans in Montreal were calling for his death shortly after the announcement. With Campbell in attendance on March 17, he was insulted throughout the evening by Montreal patrons, attacked by fans, and was pelted with all sorts of items thrown by the Canadiens' fans as they saw Campbell as English-Canada's representative in trying to hold down the Montreal Canadiens. Campbell wisely left the Forum during the first intermission after he had been pelted by eggs. After a tear gas bomb was set off in the Montreal Forum, fans poured onto the streets surrounding the Forum and started a riot. Because of the actions of the fans, the game was awarded to the Detroit Red Wings, and this set off the powder keg. After all was said and done, the "Richard Riot" resulted in some 60 people being arrested, and an estimated $500,000 in damages to properties.

While it was said that Richard would never forgive Campbell for his actions that day, photographic evidence shows that the two men were at least civil towards one another. Perhaps this was more a sign of respect for one another than anything else. In 1956, however, Richard and Campbell were present for Maurice Richard's signing of the guest book in the Mayor of Toronto's seat. Cooler heads definitely prevailed in out of this situation as photographers showing that Campbell took the time to greet Richard in 1976 at the Montreal Forum.

After 20 years as NHL President, Campbell was elected the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. In 1967, he was instrumental in doubling the NHL's size when six expansion teams began play in 1968. Because of his work in the expansion effort, the NHL teams decided to highlight his achievements by presenting the NHL with the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy, which would be awarded to the regular season winner of the newly-formed West Division that had all six expansion teams as members.

With the announcement of a "rogue" league, called the World Hockey Association, beginning play in 1972, Campbell was swift to hem in the WHA's efforts in competing with the NHL. 1970 saw the NHL welcome the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks into the NHL as expansion teams. 1972 sees the NHL include the New York Islanders and the Atlanta Flames as expansion teams. All four cities were targeted by the WHA for franchises, and Campbell and the Board of Governors moved swiftly to prevent them from occupying large population bases in those cities. The Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals are awarded expansion franchises in 1974 as the WHA's popularity was beginning to open new opportunities to them. In seven years, Campbell had tripled the size of the NHL, and put serious strain on the WHA.

Campbell also outlawed players not under NHL contracts from playing in international events. The 1972 Summit Series saw players such as Bobby Hull, Derek Sanderson, and Gordie Howe banned from participating in the historic series against the USSR because of their defection to the WHA. This move was specifically designed to crush any sort of marketability of the WHA's stars while highlighting the NHL's stars. Campbell's moves into new, large markets combined with his tactical moves against the WHA saw the WHA suffer financially. Several WHA teams were forced to fold or relocate within the first year of the WHA's existence because of the NHL's pressure and/or competition.

In 1974, with the NHL sitting at its highest number of teams ever in 18, the league decided to split into four divisions under two conferences. The Clarence S. Campbell Conference, made up of the Conn Smythe and James Norris Divisions, was created to honour Campbell, and the winner of the conference would earn the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy.

In 1976, Campbell was charged with a crime as he was found guilty of bribing an airline executive. While the NHL paid his fine, the embarrassment he caused both himself and the league would weigh heavily on him. After the 1976-77 season, Campbell announced he was stepping down as NHL President after holding the position for 31 years. It is still the longest tenure of a President of the NHL to this date, and one that more recent NHL Presidents have been compared to in terms of accomplishments and achievements.

During his last few years as NHL President, Campbell had begun having respiratory problems. With his announcement, he no longer had the extra stress of running a major sports league. Campbell fought his respiratory problems for another seven years before time caught up to him. Campbell passed away on June 24, 1984.

In 1981, the NHL changed how they award the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy. Instead of it going to the regular season conference winner, it would now be awarded to the winner of the NHL Conference Playoff Series. This winner, of course, represented the Campbell Conference in the Stanley Cup Final. With the change in 1993 to geographical conferences, the winner of the Western Conference in the NHL Playoffs now receives the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy.

So there's your history on how this trophy came to be. Mr. Campbell's record as NHL President is extremely impressive despite his obvious blemishes with the criminal charge and the Richard Riot.

Here are some facts about the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy winners:

  • The first team to win the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy was the 1967-68 Philadelphia Flyers.
  • In the 41 years the trophy has been awarded, only 12 teams have won it.
  • The Edmonton Oilers sit first place in NHL history with seven Campbell Trophy wins. Detroit and Philadelphia sit second all-time with six victories each. Chicago sits third in NHL history with four Campbell Trophy wins in their history.
  • The 1973-74 Philadelphia Flyers were the first Campbell Trophy winners to capture the Stanley Cup in the same season.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders are the only teams from the current Eastern Conference to have won the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy. Philly, as stated above, won six times, and the New York Islanders have won three times.
  • The Dallas Stars are the only team to have won the Campbell Trophy after having won the award in a previous location. The Minnesota North Stars franchise won the Campbell Trophy in 1990-91, and the Dallas Stars have since won the award in both 1998-99 and 1999-2000.
  • The Clarence S. Campbell Trophy winner has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup only 17 times in the same season in NHL history. Since the change to awarding the trophy to the conference playoff winner in 1981, the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy winners have won the Campbell Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season 14 times in 28 years.
There's your history on the Clarence S. Campbell Trophy, the man behind the trophy, and some trivia on the winners. Without a doubt, Campbell should be considered as the greatest NHL President in NHL history. In his 31 years of running the league, no one did more for the game to date.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

2 comments:

Peter K said...

hey teebz! (it's Peter K from uniwatch)

Have you heard any news on the EPHL?

Apparently their website is down for all the teams and Danbury, CT may have yet ANOTHER minor league tea, 4th in 5 years...

Teebz said...

Nothing yet, Peter, but I'm picking up the case.

I'll keep you posted!