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Hockey Head Shots

In: Social Issues

Submitted By RedWings3
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NHL's discipline chief gets backup on head-injury punishments
After reports that a group of general managers had complained Brendan Shanahan had been too forceful in handing out punishment, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says he has been consistent and clear.
Helene Elliott
6:00 PM PDT, October 10, 2011 | |
The NHL gave Brendan Shanahan a hammer. And though the new czar of discipline is swinging it more forcefully than anyone expected, the league insists the hammer won't be replaced with a feather.

Shanahan, head of the league's new player safety department, has aggressively carried out the NHL's overdue directive to punish players who hit opponents in the head. Predictably, he has faced a backlash, maybe because his decisiveness and clarity are startling after Colin Campbell's meek, muddled rulings.

Hardliners grumble the game is becoming soft. A report Saturday on "Hockey Night in Canada's" Hot Stove feature said a group of general managers went to Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly "and made it very clear that they are very unhappy" with Shanahan, though the report didn't identify them.

Daly on Monday backed Shanahan's performance and said he and Bettman had not heard from any disgruntled club executives.

"There is only one general manager that I am aware of that has expressed concern to either Gary or me about the standard that Brendan has been imposing and he did so only in response to me reaching out to him," Daly said via email. "I think any suggestion that there is widespread disagreement within the league and/or among the clubs with Brendan's standard and the discipline he has imposed to date is way off base and not factual.

"I will say unequivocally and for the record that no one at the league office has had any conversation with Brendan about changing the standard he is applying. Nor do we believe that he has or will 'back off,' as is being suggested in the media. One thing that both the clubs and players have asked for over time is consistency in decision-making. Brendan has applied a consistent standard to this point and I have no doubt that he will continue to apply a consistent standard going forward."

Shanahan and the league must stand tough for this initiative to have an impact. Players will learn where the line is. Some have already figured it out and have dished out hard, full-body hits that didn't inflict concussions.

"It's very similar to coming out of the lockout, with hooking and holding. Everybody said we were going to have penalties all year, but players adapt to it," said Rob Blake, a member of the player safety department. "Players are smart. They don't want to sit in the penalty box."

Blake said he has gotten more calls from general managers about plays that didn't draw suspensions than plays that did incur Shanahan's wrath. Blake is among Shanahan's advisors, along with Damian Echevarrieta of the player safety department and members of the hockey operations staff. The ultimate call is Shanahan's, and he alone appears in the explanatory videos posted on the league's website and sent to players.

"It's a learning curve for everyone, and I've been on that side as a player. But I do think the clarity on the suspensions and what has taken place has definitely helped," Blake said. "We've seen players make contact but maybe making it in a different way than they might have, and we've seen a progression."

To shackle Shanahan would halt that progress. This is too important to let self-interest win out.

How it’s related:
If there continues to be backlash from the league about Brendan Shanahan’s work as the NHL’s disciplinarian, then Shanahan must especially focus on consistency and documentation. Another focus Shanahan and the league should have is that the NHL policies are up-to-date and specific, and that every decision made by Shanahan is by the books and backed by the policies in place. Consistency in his decisions will be important, meaning that he should use prior incidents and the punishments he decided on for those times as a foundation for his current decisions. By using up-to-date policies, consistent decisions, and documentation then Shanahan will be doing his job by the books and the fans, players, and general managers will have no room for criticism and objections.…...

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