Brendan Shanahan says no one should make a connection between his slowdown in player suspensions and any alleged outrage from NHL general managers or players.
Shanahan admits at least some general managers were not happy when he made headlines during the preseason by suspending nine players for a total of 31 games in his campaign against hits to the head. But the scope of general managers’ outrage – one report said a group of them took their unhappiness straight to commissioner Gary Bettman – is subject to debate, especially since none of the critics spoke for the record. However, several players and a few player agents have gone on record criticizing the decisions.
One general manager, who did not want to be identified, said he complained directly to Shanahan about what he sees as too much, too soon in suspending players for hits to the head under the beefed-up Rule 48. While the GM said he believed the majority of his fellow general managers were not happy with the suspensions, he also said Shanahan did not back down during their conversation.
Shanahan, the NHL’s senior vice-president of player safety and hockey operations, is unrepentant.
“The fact we haven’t had any [suspensions]in a week, to me it speaks to the players, to their ability to adapt and make changes,” he said Wednesday. “People can report what they want on TV but I felt no internal pressure to make any changes [in player discipline] My commitment is the same as it’s always been.”
Both Shanahan and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly denied reports that a number of GMs complained directly to Bettman or Daly.
“I’m going on the record now to say I haven’t [received a large amount of criticism from the GMs]” Shanahan said.
One NHL GM who did speak on the record offered support for Shanahan.
“I can only speak for myself,” Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said, “but I feel [Shanahan]is doing a good job sending a message that some of these checks are not part of our game. The main part about this is keeping players safe.”
Some players have offered mild criticism of Shanahan’s preseason suspensions. Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty, who is coming back after missing the last few months of last season due to a hit from Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara, said there seems to be too much of “a grey area” in what is allowed with contact to the head.
Canadiens defenceman Chris Campoli, a member of the NHL’s competition committee, which vets rule changes, was not happy when Shanahan did not suspend Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone for a hit to his head in the preseason. Campoli said the hit was just the sort the league is trying to get rid of and he “respectfully disagrees” with Shanahan.
Shanahan says the videos that accompany his rulings are to explain the grey areas. “I don’t think anything in this job will ever be black and white,” he said.
Since the regular season started, Shanahan has dished out just one suspension, and that was not for a hit to the head. Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild was banned for two games for hitting a player on the mouth with his stick.
The reason for that, Shanahan says, is not due to any criticism he received. He said the players quickly learned what was acceptable and adapted, just as they have over the years to any rule change.
And if anyone does cross the line with a head shot, Shanahan says he will still face a severe penalty. Daly backed up Shanahan, noting the collective agreement between the league and the NHL Players’ Association gives him “the procedural framework” to impose suspensions and there are “no stated limits on the length or terms of suspensions under [the agreement]”