Tuesday, September 27, 2011

There's A New Sheriff In Town

He's got it! By George, I think he's got it! The NHL was in dire need of a sheriff who'd be willing to combine common sense, good judgement and a backbone to bring law and order back to a league that lost sight of justice. Enter Brendan Shanahan, and not a minute too soon.

Before preseason games began, Shanahan, with the support of the NHLPA's Mathieu Schneider, sent a detailed video to all the players and coaches in the league. In it, he explained with clip illustration, what would now constitute Rule 48, which now punishes any player who targets a player's head. This is regardless of any injury the guy getting hit might sustain, which is a revolutionary departure from the "Well, did it hurt him?" school of Colin Campbell discipline. The preseason video also makes clear how the league intends to enforce the boarding rule, especially when the targetted player is in a defenceless position. Shanahan left absolutely no doubt about what's allowed and what's not. He also said while he understands the game happens at high speed, there's always time for players to choose whether to run a guy or not.

So now, a week or so into the preseason, Shanahan has already handed out six suspensions (likely seven after he reviews the blatant boarding call on borderline Flyer Tom Sestito), with five of them carrying over into the regular season. The highest among them was James Wisniewski's nasty hit to Cal Clutterbuck's head. Wisniewski got eight games (with lost salary of more than half a million dollars) for the offence and Shanahan served notice that he's not taking any crap.

The beauty of what Shanahan is doing is in the video. Not only is he thinking logically about what kind of suspension is deserved, relative to the offender's history and intent, but he's laying it out in detail on video for everyone to see. This is ground-breaking stuff, and the NHL really needed it. It serves notice that Campbell's inexplicable Wheel of Justice has been mothballed.

After Max Pacioretty was very nearly killed or paralyzed when Boston's Zdeno Chara steered him into a rink stanchion at high speed last season, many people suddenly lost their appetite for on-ice destruction. The hit became bigger than the Habs or the Bruins. When Colin Campbell decided to let Chara go without a suspension, calling it a "hockey play," it turned the stomachs of a lot of long-time hockey fans and cast a cynical pall over the sport they love. It also got people, including those at the higher levels of the game, talking seriously about curbing head shots. The hit came in the same season as the one that sidelined Sidney Crosby (also without a suspension) since last January. The league recognized the urgency of the problem at long last and, incapable of introducing meaningful change with the old methods, brought in Shanahan.

This is a good thing for fans whose love of the game was waning because of the league's blindness to the damange players were suffering. We now can look at Shanahan as the guy who might be able to show players their antics won't be tolerated. Eight games to a guy like Wisniewski is a real tough-love start to a new world order in the NHL. That gives fans a reason to hope the trash is about to be taken out and the sport more like the one we've always respected.

Of course, it's early to judge Shanahan's long-term effectiveness. It's one thing to suspend Jody Shelley or Wisniewski for a few games. We'll know better the real story after the next Chris Pronger cheap shot. It'll become crystal clear when we see what Shanahan does when Alex Ovechkin or Corey Perry nails someone in the head. So far, the new sheriff is walking softly and carrying a big stick. If he can maintain consistency in his decision-making and continue to explain his calls clearly, he might be able to change the law while upholding the rules.


moeman said...

Go Shanny! So far, relatively good (minus 3 very suspicious un-fined leaf head shots, HFBs) results. Here's hoping that he puts some kind of fear into the players and cannot wait for hnic's rockemsockem resident/violence peddler to rip the new sanctioning system.

dusty said...

A good start but I think he failed the star player test already with Phaneuf. The ACC (not to mention HNIC) would be outraged if their captain missed opening night.

HeadHunter said...

I am concerned about the effectiveness of preseason suspensions to established players. It does show that the league is watching but missing out on preseason match-ups is not as an effect deterrent as missing regular seasons games. Most of these hits are coming from established guys. One would think younger players, trying to show they are ready for the NHL, would be a little more reckless. Such as it is, punishments need to be confined or extended more readily into the regular season.

dusty said...

Hunter signs with LA for 600k. To bad the Habs couldn't afford him. Wish we had a GM trying to win the Cup.