SBD/October 6, 2011/NHL Season Preview

Brendan Shanahan Leading NHL's Crackdown Against Illegal Hits

Shanahan has used videos to explain his rulings on disciplinary matters
The subject of concussions “has become a predominant issue ever since” Penguins C Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s “most valuable commodity, went down and out with one" since Jan. 3, according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. The head blows “have just kept on coming throughout a preseason during which” NHL Senior VP/Player Safety & Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan “had handed out nine suspensions through Sunday, a couple to repeat offenders.” Brooks wrote the NHL "just hasn’t quite figured out how to evolve with a changing world in which the athletes get bigger, the game gets faster and the players are most certainly their own worst enemies." The league has “strengthened Rule 48 regarding head shots and Rule 41 regarding boarding hits from behind,” and has also “empowered Shanahan to be stricter than his predecessor.” Yet the league "has refused to outlaw fighting" (N.Y. POST, 10/5). SI's Michael Farber notes Shanahan's nine suspensions through Sunday have been worth 31 regular-season games and $701,682.56. Predictably, there "has been blowback." Devils G Martin Brodeur said that Shanahan "was going too far," while Maples Leafs LW Clarke MacArthur "complained the NHL seemed hell-bent on removing all hitting from the game" (SI, 10/10 issue). MacArthur said, “I just think there’s going to be no hitting in this game. I think that’s what’s going to happen. No one wants to take five-, 10-game suspensions” (TORONTO STAR, 10/2).

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: In Denver, Adrian Dater noted Shanahan “introduced some new-school elements to his new job, including a video explanation for every suspension he hands out.” And so far, a majority of NHL players “seem to be in favor of the crackdown on head shots -- but some are worried that things will be taken too far” (DENVER POST, 10/2). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Jeff Blair wrote under the header “Shanahan’s Candour Gives Fighting Debate A New Punch.” Shanahan “might be more comfortable in front of the video camera, giving out a dry, written, pseudo-legal interpretation of the latest suspension he’s handed out, but he also seems able to think on his feet.” But Blair added, “It would seem that a league smart enough to use video to explain its suspensions would also realize it’s time to get in front on fighting” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/3). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the NHL.com videos with Shanahan “explaining the many suspensions he has handed out of late are appointment web watching” (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/2). SI's Farber writes Shanahan explains each decision with "succinct eloquence" (SI, 10/10 issue).

FIGHT FOR CHANGE: The GLOBE & MAIL’s David Shoalts wrote the goal of Shanahan and the league “is laudable but the process is sure to be uncomfortable” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/2). In Pittsburgh, Josh Yohe wrote Shanahan’s early work “has received praise from players, and his hands-on approach feels refreshing.” Yet his job "remains daunting, as a faction of players seemingly always will push the envelope with controversial hits" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 10/2). A GLOBE & MAIL editorial stated, “This should be the season to end headshots in hockey.” But the NHL’s "determination to take headshots out of the game and protect the brains of its players is still in question." The editorial: "If the league is serious about headshots, any deliberate targeting of the head should be ruled by definition an ‘attempt to injure,’ and subject to an automatic five-minute ‘major’ penalty, and expulsion from that game” (GLOBE & MAIL, 10/1).
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