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The Puck Stops Here

The Campaign To Discredit Brendan Shanahan

Whenever somebody makes meaningful change to anything, there is a backlash against them.  This is true in hockey where Brendan Shanahan has become the NHL’s point man in trying to crack down on dangerous hits.  Since he is in charge of suspensions in the NHL, he can suspend players who are involved in such hits. 

Some people involved in hockey do not like the reduction in hits that this process will lead to.  They are interested in derailing the process.

I think that getting rid of these dangerous hits is an important step for the NHL.  Superstar players such as Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya had their careers end prematurely due to concussions.  Fans lost out in seeing some great hockey from them because of their shortened careers.  There is a risk that Sidney Crosby could join them with a concussion-shortened career.

Keeping these superstar players healthy so they can have many productive seasons will improve the quality of NHL hockey.  It is a much greater benefit than the loss of a few hits. 

Of course not everyone agrees.  Don Cherry is the highest profile attacker of these changes.  He has made a great deal of money selling Rock Em Sock Em Hockey tapes.  These tapes have some of the biggest hits from the NHL.  Often these hits are dangerous and have players involved getting hurt. 

On his opening day Coach’s Corner, Cherry railed against Shanahan and also the former fighters who have come out against fighting in the NHL, as they have seen ill-effects in their post-hockey lives.  These players include Stu Grimson, Chris Nilan and Jim Thomson.  Cherry called them “pukes”, “hypocrites” and “turncoats” for speaking out against fighting.  Don Cherry’s rant was seen very negatively by the general public as being “over the top”.  Don Cherry’s direct attack was far too broad and was not successful in discrediting Brendan Shanahan.  It reflected more negatively on Cherry himself.  There is even talk that the former players may sue Don Cherry.

My main thought was it was far too early for Don Cherry to go on his rant.  It was the opening day of the NHL season.  We don’t know how Brendan Shanahan’s crackdown on dangerous hits (which was incidental to the part of Cherry’s comments that gathered the most media attention) will play out.  As a bit of a cynic, I imagine that by February things the wind will be let out of the sails in the process.  It is hard to make a longterm change and keep it up for a long period of time.

The main attack on Shanahan has been a systematic chiselling away at everything he does.  Inevitably, he will not get every suspension right and making a bad call or two does not affect the idea of cracking down on dangerous hits.  The best example of a poor suspension call is Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild.  He was suspended two games for a slash on Matt Calvert of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The slash happened in Saturday’s game that Minnesota won 4-2.  Bouchard was given a double minor penalty at the time.  Bouchard did not attempt to slash Calvert in the mouth.  The slash rode up Calvert’s arms and wound up much higher than it was intended.  It looked very bad and removed teeth.  A double minor penalty is reasonable for his intent.  Bouchard was careless with his stick, but that is something that frequently happens in an NHL game.  It rarely ends up with as much damage as it did in this instance and that is why Bouchard was suspended.  Bouchard was suspended for the result and not the intent.  This was a common criticism of the Colin Campbell regime.

Attacking Shanahan’s every move will serve to delegitimize him in the views of many fans who are not paying attention to all the minutia of what is going on in the NHL.  If Shanahan can be painted as being a continuation of Colin Campbell, where he was often criticized for unpredictable suspensions that were often politically chosen, that will help to derail the crackdown on dangerous hits that is underway.  We won’t agree with every suspension he hands down, but so far the general direction things are going looks positive, though it is not without its critics.  Most of these critics have personal interests that trump any interest in player health.

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Comments

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It’s very clear that Shanahan is considering both result and intent in his suspensions - the injury or lack thereof is one of his “key points” in each video. 

Is that the right thing to do?  I suppose it’s up for debate, but it’s the way our justice system works too.  Intent is the biggie, but result plays a role too - that’s why there are crimes such as “manslaughter” and “criminal negligence causing death” that carry significant consequences.

I have to think that Bouchard’s lack of intent played a role in his suspension only being 2 games - if he had intended to swing his stick at Calvert’s face, I certainly hope he’d get more than 2 games, irrespective of injury. 

I’m convinced that this call was a good one, and am a little befuddled by those who consider it a “bad suspension.”  One of the reasons it’s illegal to whack players with your stick is because stuff like this can happen, even when the “intent” is only to mildly injure the upper body.

Posted by jonquixote on 10/11/11 at 06:33 PM ET

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Good article.

Posted by steviesteve on 10/11/11 at 08:12 PM ET

Da lil Guy's avatar

“General Public Ass”

Is that meant to be a description of Cherry? I’d be careful - there’s a lot of defamation talk flying around these days.

Posted by Da lil Guy from Guelph, Ontario on 10/11/11 at 08:12 PM ET

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I’m convinced that this call was a good one, and am a little befuddled by those who consider it a “bad suspension.

Bouchard?

Doesn’t match existing precedent (when victim changes circumstances to make a non-injurious play an injurious one at the last second, ‘perpetrator’ has not been punished; see Edler/Hall, Malone/whatshisface), sets new bad precedent (player can nutshot another player on faceoff, but if you slash his hands in retaliation just before he decided to put his stick in your face, you may be subject to discipline), stick-work not part of gm mandate to increase penalties on headshots/boards.

There’s a whole host of reasons that was a bad suspension.

Posted by steviesteve on 10/11/11 at 08:18 PM ET

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He’s doing a great job.  He has to lay down the law and have consistent punushment no matter who the transgressor.

If this problem is not contained the game will lose a large number of star players.  Had to suspend Bouchard,  the mindset has to be changed.  He’s fighting a lot of people who don’t want to admit the game has changed.  Crosby Staal efc.  Marc Savard.  In this case it is much better to do too much than too little.

I only hope he does not waiver as the season progresses.

Posted by 13 user names on 10/11/11 at 08:45 PM ET

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I think Shanahan and the NHL are doing a great job.  To me, all the videos of hits to the head are intentional. It is a decision made by a player, and the consequences can be career-ending.  I think the game will be improved by these new rules.

Posted by rperkins on 10/12/11 at 12:51 PM ET

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1) Please leave Crosby and his concussion out of the discussion. His did not come from a preventable “dangerous hit”  It was incidental contact. Unfortunate, but unavoidable in a fast paced physical game of hockey

2) The rubber will hit the road with regard to Shanahan when he is faced with a star player late in the season or playoffs who commits one of these infractions. Would he suspend a Ovechkin, Pronger, etc for 10+ games?

Posted by Fauxrumors on 10/12/11 at 02:22 PM ET

Bossy_Rules's avatar

Good post.  Its the same any time they try to implement a new rule or enforce an existing rule more strictly.  People whine that the refs ‘aren’t letting them play’.  Its ridiculous.  These complaints come mostly from people who like violence more than hockey.

Posted by Bossy_Rules on 10/14/11 at 05:24 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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