VANCOUVER – Commissioner Gary Bettman delivered his semi-annual ‘State of the NHL’ address on Wednesday afternoon prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The biggest news of the day though came when head of discipline Colin Campbell announced that he’ll be stepping down.
Brendan Shanahan, NHL VP of Hockey and Business Development, will take over the unenviable role starting next season and Campbell admitted that after a tumultuous season, change was needed.
“I approached Gary back in March about supplemental discipline,” Campbell said on Wednesday, “and it was time to have a fresh look and fresh eyes at the process of discipline.”
Campbell also spoke to how the challenges of applying supplemental discipline has changed over the years.
When he originally took over for Brian Burke back in 1998, the focus was on removing limitations and inconsistencies associated with the technology side of the equation. With advances in streaming video and the availability of dozens of camera angles on nearly every questionable play, Campbell admitted that it’s time to shift attention to the actual decision-making process.
“Now we have the ability to, up to the second almost, monitor all games,” Campbell said. “The actual difficulty or challenge in supplemental discipline is the actual process of making a decision.”
The next NHL Board of Governors meeting is June 21 in New York and the plan is to revisit the new Rule 48 which prohibits blindside or lateral hits to the head.
“It’s an area we have to get our arms around,” Campbell said. “With Brendan, Steve Yzerman, Joe Nieuwendyk, Rob Blake, and Rob Blake and Brendan have been part of Hockey Operations now, Brendan for two years and Rob Blake this last year, it’s been really good having players who just got off the ice and have a feel for it.”
Shanahan successfully revamped the NHL’s All-Star Weekend (at least for one year) and it’ll now be up to him to decide if – or how – to overhaul the disciplinary system.
But while the All-Star Game was a situation full of upside, Sean Leahy at Yahoo! Sports wonders how effective Shanahan can be in a no-win role:
The role of league disciplinarian is not an easy one as Campbell found out. It’s hard to please all parties involved and Shanahan has developed a sterling reputation in his short tenure as a league executive. Now possibly taking on a thankless job, how long will that reputation remain sterling?
Big changes will probably have to wait until a new CBA gets hammered out next summer, but in the meantime Shanahan may entertain the idea of bringing additional voices into the mix (he refers to a ‘Department of Safety’ below).
By incorporating input from other respected figures in the game, he’d be able to deflect negative attention away from solely himself and also eliminate any perceived biases.
Shanahan certainly deserves credit for facing one of the game’s toughest challenges head-on. The reality of the job is that if Shanahan is effective in getting the league to take supplementary discipline and dangerous hits more seriously, he won’t get the kind of praise he got by resurrecting the All-Star Game. Instead, his phone will be ringing off the hook with NHL front office members furious that their players are suspended a half-dozen games for an act that was previously non-suspendable under Campbell.
I guess as they say, it’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Campbell and Shanahan also answered a number of questions from the media:
Q. Colie, we know that Gregory takes taunts on the team about who his dad is. Is that part of your decision to step down from this one?
COLIN CAMPBELL: No, not really. It’s part of the game. He’s having fun playing now. I’m having fun, me and my wife, watching him play.
There are taunts in all aspects of the game. If you talk to the people standing between the benches, they’ll tell you what they hear on the ice. There are no boundaries down there. That’s just another area of some of the things that are said. It’s all part of the game, trying to win.
I think the fact that 13 years of this, I think it’s an all-encompassing job. It’s hard to do other aspects of your jobs. When something happens, we just don’t look at it once, flip a coin, say is it two, three or four? It carries you for a good day to two days. You want to do the right thing for the players, for the game.
It’s a job that needs, as I said to Gary, needs some fresh eyes, a fresh look. I’ve been doing it for 13 years. You’ve got to get out of that rut. I think it’s got to move on.
It was no different in my other life when I was a coach. If you’re part of making a trade, you have all the input, and the general manager made the final decision. In this case, I was a general manager, now it will be Brendan. He’ll take input from everyone and the final decision will be his.
Q. Brendan, you’ve been around Hockey Ops enough to see that Colie’s integrity the last couple years has been questioned, every decision seems to be second-guessed. Who is to say when you come in and Steve Yzerman’s team is playing, you obviously won a Cup with him, that people might say, Well, he’s looking at it this way or that way.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: You assume that Steve and I are still friends (smiling).
Q. Are you prepared to take this, as Gary said, thankless job and everything that goes with it?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: Well, first off I’d like to touch on that because it has been described as a thankless job. I just want to say for the record as a player that was disciplined under Colie on a few occasions, and now having been honored to get to know him better and work with him over the last two years, he does deserve and is owed a great deal of thanks by hockey.
To think back when he took this job and how far he’s brought this role, the way that it’s changed over the years from having videotapes driven to him in snowstorms and meeting people on the sides of highways to rush home and watch it on his VCR, to having the Situation Room that we have now in Toronto, I think that history will show that Colie has been a great innovator for the game of hockey, and we all do owe him a great deal of thanks.
I can say that, again, I played against Gregory. Gregory is a hard-working, honest, quiet player that plays tough. Colie was the same way. He’s that type of a person in the office, as well. He is respected so much, and I respect him so much. I thank him for giving me the honor of putting me in a position of having hopefully a positive impact on the safety of the game of hockey.
COLIN CAMPBELL: You won’t be thanking me next year at this time (laughter).
Q. Brendan, what do you think your greatest challenge in taking this job on is?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: Well, I think the job itself. It’s been described to me many ways, quite honestly, by these guys. I think that in some ways it’s not a job that you go into thinking that you’re going to be getting a lot of pats on the back. But if you do it with the kind of integrity that Colie has, and I believe you’ve got to be overinclusive, I think you have to really draw from your experience, draw from the experience of others around you.
I think that there’s a great responsibility here. I think that the game has never been played at a better level. I see that as just something that’s a great challenge. I don’t know that every day is going to be an easy one. I certainly was made well aware before I accepted the position all the different hurdles that there are.
But, again, it’s just very important to me. It’s too important for me to pass up an opportunity to hopefully have an impact on this great game and on the players that play it.
Q. Do you think part of what you’ll bring to the job is communicating to players? Colie talked about the challenge of defining the rules, the constant evolution of the rules. Will that be something that you need to do going forward, just explaining to the players and the public what you’re doing, what your standards are, how you’re trying to adhere to them?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: I think communication is going to be very important. I think over the next few months I have an opportunity to really listen and learn from a lot of people.
I think communicating with the players, I think communicating with my peers at the NHL, and I think communicating with the NHLPA and some of my friends there. I think it’s just a matter of really building a consensus, moving towards next season, using the next few months to sort of prepare myself for when the season starts.
But I absolutely think that in this day and age constant communication is important. I remember as a player you really don’t think about supplemental discipline until it’s happening to you.
I think that I’ve sat through those meetings before where they sort of warn you what is going to happen to you if you do these things. Sometimes you’re thinking about tomorrow night’s game or the game in a couple days or the game you played last night. So it’s a matter of my group staying on top of it, constantly trying to reach out to people and communicate in that fashion.
COLIN CAMPBELL: I think one thing here that is important, Brendan touched on it, is that a lot of people have comments about supplemental discipline and thoughts on it. What’s most important is the players and how they feel about it and how they want to play the game and be protected in the game.
When we first started, I said I just got out of the coaches ranks, as Mike Murphy did. We brought in Kay Whitmore, Kris King who just retired, we had a touch, a feel for it. And lately Brendan and Rob Blake have been involved. It’s very important to have, in the question you asked, Brendan touched on it, to have that feel with the players, that understanding of where they want the game to be and how they want it to be played.
We can all say all we want. The managers work hard on this. It’s important they protect their assets. It’s also important how the players want to play the game. That’s something that both Brendan and Rob have brought to our group the past year, two years.
Q. Brendan, as there’s been so much more consternation lately on the concussion issues, the blindside hits, I think the feeling from this side of the podium is, when you get a guy who clearly breaks all the rules set down, the suspensions haven’t been as harsh or as long as many of my colleagues and myself feel like it would need to be to stop the guy from doing it again. Can we say that with you coming into this job, maybe yesterday’s three-game suspension will be tomorrow’s five-, six-, or seven-game suspension? Will it change?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: I can’t promise you how I’m going to view each individual situation. I think it’s important to state that I do love the physical aspect of hockey. It’s a very difficult and fine balance to keep that in the game, to allow players to play on their toes, but at the same time for them to know what they can and can’t do.
I think that, as I said, over the next few months, communicating with players, I think that it’s up to me to take a lot of direction, ask a lot of questions like you just asked me, and then when the time comes to make a decision. If I feel that all of the criteria of a player trying to injure another player has been met, then I’m going to have to act.
But I can’t promise you what was once a three is now a seven. I think that it’s all going to be individual.
I will promise you that when I do make those decisions, I will try to make my thought process and everything that went into that thought process very clear and very visible to the entire hockey world.
Q. Concussions have become such a flash point, such an emotional issue. Is there a way of curtailing it? Is there a sense of alarm and concern, or do you view it as an overreaction in some quarters?
COLIN CAMPBELL: I think that’s what we’re trying to get our arms around with this committee, group, department that Gary has put together. We’ve worked on it. Kris King was delighted to send his 23 sets of shoulder pads to Brendan’s office a couple months ago.
There are so many different aspects to the game. I talked to an NHL coach who just attended a tournament that his 11-year-old son was in in Ontario. He said there were three concussions in two days. I remember three concussions on my team when I played. Is it the speed of the game? Is it the shoulder pads? We’re more aware of it and players are prepared to come forward? There’s a number of factors.
So I think it’s all-encompassing, not just discipline in how players act or hit. I think that’s something we’ve got to get our arms around. I think that’s something even the boards, the glass, everything. I think that’s something Brendan has been working on.
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: I just echo what Colie is saying. It’s not any one thing. I think it’s part of several things put together.
Q. Brendan, the league has, for a couple years it seems, taken a very kind of legalistic approach to supplemental discipline, where they’ll go through a rule word by word and apply it sort of frame by frame to an incident. At times it seemed there’s been a kind of pragmatic approach missing. The Zdeno Chara hit may be an example, Ryane Clowe said of that. He’s not sure whether it’s legal or not. That kind of hit, that kind of injury, there should be something to send a message to players. Will you try in any way to take sort of a more pragmatic approach, like big picture, was it dangerous, was the player hurt, should the player have made it or made it, regardless of whether it’s legal?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: I think we can all agree it’s a difficult position to be in. On the one hand, any time you have an injured player, and on the other hand you have a player that is delivering a hit in a physical game, I don’t think that this is going to be easy. I think that certainly there’s an adherence to the rule book that’s fair to the players. I also think that instincts definitely play a part of this.
But I do believe that over the next few months, I’ve been thinking about this since Colie and Gary approached me in March, but I do believe as I build my team and build the whole Department of Safety, which will include a lot of things, I think that all those questions will be sort of answered in the next few months as we approach next season.
Q. Brendan, you said a couple times about building your team. Are you planning to go out and find some people to work with that are not currently with the NHL headquarters?
BRENDAN SHANAHAN: I’m open to that. But I think we’ve also got some great people at the NHL. I plan on using all the resources that we have, including our room in Toronto, including obviously Colie. He’s done this job for 13 years. I’ve reached out to Brian Burke. I’ve asked him his impressions, his perspectives.
I think, like I said earlier, my intention especially in the beginning is to be as over-thoughtful and over-inclusive as I can be. Then it’s just a matter of finding the right people and leaning on the people I know that have had experience at this job. Quite frankly doing the very best I can at a very difficult job.