Brendan Shanahan has a bone to pick. The eight-time all-star and veteran of 21 NHL seasons says it’s unfair for people to dump on Colin Campbell, his predecessor as czar of league discipline.
“He’s the reason I am in this job,” Shanahan said 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 his 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, Boston Bruins winger Gregory Campbell, but not when it involved the teams Gregory directly competed with in the Northeast Division, 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 league sources have told us the video concept was Shanahan’s, he 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 after recording yet another video (this time for suspending Anaheim Ducks forward Jean-François 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 chalkboard 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 is getting too much publicity. But Shanahan says he’s a reluctant video star.
“I really don’t enjoy making them,” he said. “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.