Welcome to the era of the Shanaban.
Last season, during the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL announced that Senior VP of Player Operations Colin Campbell would be rotated out of the role of the NHL’s head disciplinarian. Replacing him would be a former hockey superstar who has done more for professional hockey than anyone else in the last 20 years – Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan is not completely beyond reproach in this position, but he is an experienced hat at discipline from the player’s end. Shanahan also has the trust of the NHL – he has worked as an executive for Gary Bettman since retiring from active play, and was one of the key negotiators during the 2004-05 lockout. Both as a player (someone sure to be enrolled in the Hockey Hall of Fame next year) and as an executive and negotiator, Shanahan has helped move hockey forward, and Bettman is relying on him to do so again.
The NHL has an injury problem. Colin Campbell continued to deny this simple fact last season, even as Sidney Crosby – the biggest superstar in the NHL since some guy named Wayne Gretzky – missed the entire second half of the season after two brutal headshots, one occurring during the League’s premiere regular season event, the Winter Classic. While Campbell was in charge, the League seemed to resist changes for headshots, which, as well as Campbell’s random and unexplained discipline, discredited him among many observers. On top of this, Campbell showed a distaste for certain players, notably, Marc Savard, that significantly questioned his ability to be in charge of discipline.
The Shanahan era, therefore, has come as a welcome change. So far, Shanahan has suspended 9 players for a total of 60 games and $719,249.99 in salary (the latter mostly from James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets). Shanahan has made a video for each call explaining his reasoning, and recently for a hit that he did not suspend, why the hit was considered fair. Overall, this public explanation has made it very clear to observers and the players what Shanahan wants and expects, and has set a clear precedent.
Finally, the NHL has finally evolved to completely ban hits to the head, excepting for when the player’s head moves into the otherwise clean checking line. This was why Ryan Malone didn’t get suspended for his hit on Montreal’s Chris Campoli. Although I am a Montreal fan, it was the right call – thanks to Shanahan’s clear explanations. The Shanabans will undoubtedly continue; every player doesn’t learn quickly, and accidents will happen. But Shanahan has placed the emphasis on the attacking player to protect the defending player – and it’s about damned time.