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Shoalts: New player-safety director will need thick skin, long fuse

The only certainty about the NHL's next director of player safety, or chief disciplinarian, is that he – the league desires an ex-player or ex-manager in the job – will not be hired until the summer months.

"We've got lots of time," said NHL director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly added in an e-mail that the league expects "a permanent replacement will be named before the opening of training camps for the 2014-15 season – and hopefully well in advance of that."

Actually, there is one other thing that can be said about the new disciplinarian: He will need a thick skin. Judging hits that usually leave other players injured and then meting out appropriate punishment is a thankless job that comes with long working hours and criticism from all sides: players, media, fans and especially general managers.

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"It's not an easy position," said Campbell, who held it for 13 years until Brendan Shanahan took over in June, 2011. "It takes poise, it takes patience, it takes a long fuse."

Stéphane Quintal is the interim replacement for Shanahan, who left to become president of the Toronto Maple Leafs last week. Quintal is in place for the duration of the playoffs; hence the lack of urgency.

Quintal, 45, has served notice in what amounts to an in-house audition for the job that he will not shy away from tough decisions. He issued a four-game suspension to Mike Rupp of the Minnesota Wild for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie. On Sunday, Quintal benched Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook for three games for a head shot on Blues forward David Backes, with the Blackhawks trailing the first-round series 2-0.

At this point, Quintal has to be considered a front-runner for the job simply because he's already doing it, but the league plans a wider search. There are several rumoured candidates, including John Ferguson Jr., the former Leafs general manager who is now a pro scout for the San Jose Sharks, Mike Murphy, the second-in-command to Campbell in the hockey operations department, former player Adam Graves and another hockey operations staffer, former player Kris King.

Daly and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman were considering former player and GM Joe Nieuwendyk, but Nieuwendyk said Monday he is not interested in the job. Nieuwendyk was let go as GM by the Dallas Stars a year ago and is not ready to return to full-time work. That is why he has also spurned overtures from Calgary Flames president Brian Burke to be that team's GM.

Both Ferguson and King declined to discuss the matter, as both are occupied with their current jobs. In addition to working as a GM, Ferguson spent two summers in the NHL office under former disciplinarian Brian Burke while he was going to law school.

"We believe the person has to have had a lot of experience in hockey, and ideally, that would involve NHL experience as a player," Daly said in his e-mail.

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That leaves the former defenceman Quintal in good shape if he wants the job. The native of Boucherville, Que., was a first-round draft choice in 1987 and played 1,037 games for several teams. It doesn't hurt that Quintal works out of the NHL's head office in New York, which keeps him close to Bettman and Daly. A little rivalry between the staff in the league's New York and Toronto offices is not unknown.

One thing that will be different for the new man is the involvement of Daly. Campbell and Shanahan were mostly left to make their own decisions except for the egregious cases, when Bettman would take an interest. However, Daly is now playing a much bigger role in the interim process.

Campbell says the technology makes gathering video evidence much quicker than it was when he started in the job in 1998. Back then, he says, only half of the NHL's games were televised. But he isn't sure if former players of Shanahan's and Nieuwendyk's vintage will chase the job because most of them made a lot of money during their playing careers and don't need the aggravation.

"Brendan amazed me. He didn't have to do what he did," Campbell said of Shanahan's commitment to the job. "I told Brendan, 'You know, there's no clock in this job. The [general] managers don't care [if] you're taking your son to hockey or you're at church. They don't care and they don't want to hear why you couldn't answer the phone.' "

Follow me on Twitter: @dshoalts

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