by PuckStopsHere on 10/11/11 at 05:22 PM ET
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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