Colin Campbell is the scourge of this league right now… he’s a buffoon. His decisions in the playoffs last year should have gotten him straight canned in the off-season. And thus, his continued employment is an embarrassment to the league.
In my book, you need to follow the NFL's lead here. Yes, they go way overboard on the No Fun League stuff, but when it comes to protecting the players they are dead-on.
They don't try to be a mind-reader and divine intention of a player's action... you make a dangerous play (helmet-to-helmet, horsecollar, chop-block, etc), regardless of whether that player was hurt (which is where the NHL REALLY drops the ball), you're gonna be punished.
That sends a clear message... do bad things (even if they don't catch you in the game), you're gonna pay for it. The NHL standard is, you do bad things... as long as you don't hurt the guy, you get away with it.
Ruling on these issues, is similar to judging how effectively you play the game (or any game for that matter); practice the right way, good things will happen, and vice versa. I have taught many people to play golf, and the easy mistake to make is to look at the results rather than the quality of shot. A duff that goes 10 feet from the pin, is easy to be excited about, but is far less effective than a pure stroke that went thirty feet right due to poor alignment. In the long run, the more quality strokes you make, the better your game will be.
There is a similar relationship between the players' actions and the results. In such an environment, an elbow to the head is a play that a high percentage of the time will do exactly what is intended. Shake the guy up, exact some revenge, throw him off his game and not seriously hurt the guy. And since the league doesn't usually penalize players for elbows that don't end up injuring anyone, you'll get away with likely little more than a 2 minute penalty (what? 90% of the time?). Seems like a fairly high percentage play. One who's only downside is that once every so often, somebody catches a guy the wrong way and will get suspended and fined. "Eh, that's the risk of being a physical player". It's not a stretch to suggest that this way of enforcement actually encourages dangerous behavior.
The fact that you are engaging in an activity that has NO respect for the health of your fellow player - if things go wrong, you can quite literally end someone career and give them life-long brain trauma - is certainly not on most players mind when they elbow someone. But that's where the league needs to step in and FORCE them to take that play out of their repertoire.
In the long run, the more you consistently rule against dangerous play, the more your players will respect it. The argument that consistent and firm ruling will take away some of the aggressive physical play is ridiculous in my book, aside from the rare accidental elbowing, most dangerous plays in the NHL, especially shots to the head, are intended. Isn't it worth fining/suspending a few accidental shots to the head, better than the current plan? I would think the number of accidental dangerous plays would drop too once players are more aware of safe play.
The NFL is one of the (if not THE) hardest hitting sports on the planet, and their players have been fined, suspended and brow-beaten into having the most respect for each others safety. The NFL seems to have no problem putting a tough, physical product out on the field that has, for the most part, a fairly strong sense of fair play and player safety.
Think back to Campbell NOT suspending Mike Cammalleri in the playoffs for reasons that had to do with the game situation, and you have the perfect example not adjudicating for actions but rather for intent (and even more egregiously, results).
P.S. We'll leave out the fact that they coddle their QBs too much... that's another discussion for another day.
As requested here are some examples:
Puck Daddy lists a few examples of inconsistent punishment on head-shots from last years playoffs.
A few days later, Brashear is suspended for his head-hunt
This cheap shot from Patrick Kaleta, gets no suspension, even though he clearly jumped. While this similar cheap shot from Denis Gauthier draws a 5 game suspension because Josh Gorges is injured on the play. These two seem pretty similar to me and should get the same, firm punishment IMO.