Brendan Shanahan, freshly minted as the NHL’s first VJ, has a bone to pick. The veteran of five NHL teams says it’s unfair for people to dump on Colin Campbell, his predecessor as czar of NHL discipline, “He’s the reason I am in this job,” Shanahan told us Wednesday. “He’s still a major part of this department, he has supported all the changes, and he’s a great hockey person. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for what’s happening in the game right now. He made it better, and he improved it.”
Well, okay, point taken. Shanahan doesn’t want people to build him up at Campbell’s expense. And maybe Shanahan’s ascendant profile is a product of good timing. But for those simply watching from the outside, Shanahan’s slick video presentation and cogent explanations have seemed a quantum leap from Campbell’s Wacky Wheel of Justice. Already, he’s issued a body of work that, if not making the miscreants happy, has satisfied the public, who just happen to pay the bills.
Campbell, who is still vice-president of NHL hockey operations, seemed an earnest, well-meaning guy who was often out of his depth as he spitballed justice for the NHL. He couldn’t tell conflict of interest if it walked up and shook his hand. With his hat dance of recusing himself when decisions involved his son Gregory of the Bruins but not when it involved the teams Gregory directly competed with in the Northeast, Campbell’s logic had the worst effect possible: its erratic logic left players believing there was a grey zone in which they could still operate without incurring penalty. That, in turn, undermined referees’ authority. Other than that...
Okay, thus endeth the lecture. In his sincere attempt to deflect criticism of Campbell, Shanahan is doing the Canadian hockey player thing. Head down, it’s a team game at NHL head office. Understood. The same applies to the videos. While NHL sources have told us that the video concept was Shanahan’s, the veteran NHL star says no, it was the idea of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Gary and I discussed this, and it was his idea that we need to be more transparent in our decision making,” a weary sounding Shanahan explained just after recording yet another video - this for suspending Jean Francois Jacques. “He came up with the idea for using video. We talked about producing them to explain it to the players and then it just extended to letting the public see the videos as well.
“Players don’t get information on a chalk board any more,” Shanahan continued. “They don’t want to hear what to do. They want to be shown what to do. For instance, I found that when I met someone in the airport and they said they had problems with the decision, if I had the chance to walk them through the precedents and how we made the decision, they understood. They don’t always agree, but they could see how we came to the decision. That’s what we hope the videos do.”
The video idea is even more impressive when you consider no sports league has ventured there before. Shanahan says they operated from instinct. “We didn’t have any examples of other leagues doing this, so we had to spitball it a little when we started. How much was too much explanation, should they be shorter or longer? That sort of thing. We’re getting better at it as we go along.”
Critics unhappy with the boldness of the videos and the decisions have already suggested Shanahan’s getting too much publicity. But Shanahan says he’s a reluctant video star. “I really don’t enjoy making them,” he says. “To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be making so many this early. But if the public is be able to view them and understand them better, then it’s worth it.”
The next frontier? “We’re talking about showing some of the more controversial hits where there isn’t a suspension, because we see that as another good teaching tool.” So if you’re expecting Shanahan with 24 beauties behind him holding suitcases with various suspensions in them, don’t hold your breath. He takes the process very seriously. And he'd like you to go easy on his predecessor.
Classic Matchup: This week’s “Sun Rises In East” headline was the NHL’s what-took-so-long... er, much anticipated announcement that the Winter Classic game would be in Philadelphia on Jan. 2 . It'll be them Flyers against the New York Rangers (“They sure have pretty uniforms,” Gordie Howe once said) on NBC. And, as surely as Sestito follows Shelley, that means the Flyers and Rangers are the stars of this year’s HBO 24/7 series.
Which last year culminated in the game’s best player slopping through rain puddles and then having his cerebral cortex rearranged. Still, 24/7 got ratings and alerted parts of America that hockey coaches and hockey players can curse like sailors on shore leave. All in all, a good thing on the exposure, if not the Crosby front.
So how does the NHL top its 1-2 punch on HBO and NBC especially if the NBA takes a full year’s hiatus so its stars can play in China, Turkey or Bulgaria? How to keep the magic alive for its Emmy-winning 24/7 with other leagues aping the format? How to get Al Roker to bring winter weather, not a monsoon? The weather is always going to be a gamble, but NHL officials feel that, with a year under their belts, they know the technical pitfalls and platforms better.
The critical thing, says John Collins, the NHL’s COO, is getting co-operation from the two coaches, Peter Laviolette (Flyers) and John Tortorella (Rangers). “Like NFL’s Hard Knocks (also on HBO) the project's success hinges on coaches buy-in/involvement and I think we have two great leading men for this years series,” Collins tells Usual Suspects via e-mail. “Lots of stars, great rivalries/tradition and a year under our belt.” Our over/ under on how soon Tortorella breaks Bruce Boudreau’s f-bomb record is by episode three.
“I think we have some room to grow here with HBO,” says Collins, who spearheaded development of the Winter Classic within the league’s head office. “As we produce more original programming for the NHL Network you will see wirings, access, enhanced game sound and more cinematic coverage (low camera angles/framing) becoming more prevalent a la NFL films approach. (We want to) take fans inside the game, tell stories, provide access. All the things that fans (avid and casual) tell us they want more of.”
To summarize. No injuries to stars. A cold crisp January day. And lots of swearing. Who wouldn’t watch that?
Media Rabble: Amusing to see Vancouver’s Police chief blaming the media for stirring up undesirables before the Stanley Cup riot. This would be the same police chief who seems to have been the only person in the Lower Mainland not to know that Twitter and other social media were humming with plans for the auto de fe following Game 7. Hence, his staffing of about 400 cops for 150,000 fans in the downtown. But, hey, let’s give Chief Jim Chu the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the media did stir the pot. But at least we fully staffed Game 7.
The Ruck Stuff: Enjoying Canada at the World Cup of Rugby, but TSN hosts Nigel Reed, Gareth Rees and Brian Spanton seemed to be watching a different game in the wake of Canada’s 23-all tie with Japan. The trio spent time diagnosing Canada’s failure to vanquish the feisty Japanese but somehow missed the significance of Ander Monro’s wonky kicking.
Granted, Monro had stepped in as Canada’s kicker and skipper when James Pritchard was hurt. He scored a gallant try. But his two missed converts and missed free kick from directly in front of the uprights denied Canada the win. By contrast, Japan missed made all their set-piece kicks. The international play-by-play team of Grant Nesbitt and Ian Smith mentioned how costly Monro’s kick had been. Yet the TSN trio seemed unwilling to cite Monro’s key missed kicks, preferring general bromides about effort and determination in their analysis,
Likewise, not a word about the foolish penalty surrendered by Jason Marshall which gave Japan an easy three points late in the contest. Yes, these are mostly amateurs for Canada. Rugby is a splendid game that needs all the friends it can muster here; but a little candour will only help the product.