The NHL has announced that former player Stephane Quintal will join the player safety department in a managerial role. Quintal, 43, will join the group that is currently under the guidance of Senior VP of Player Safety, Brendan Shanahan.
“I am delighted that Stephane will be joining the Department of Player Safety,” Shanahan said. “Stephane was a physical defenseman who played the game with great passion and intensity. His insight and his ability to articulate our views will be a great asset to our department.”
Shanahan then handed Quintal an employee handbook and told him to go see Linda in HR.
Quintal will join Rob Blake (who made his video debut in October with the Dan Carcillo suspension) on the player safety team. He’s the second defenseman acquired by Shanahan, who now needs a goalie, center and checking winger to ice a competitive six-man unit.
During his career, Quintal recorded 243 points (63 goals, 180 assists) and 1,320 penalty minutes in 1,037 regular-season games with Boston, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Montreal, New York Rangers and Chicago from 1988-89 through 2003-04. Of course, he’s probably best known as the last Montreal Canadien to wear No. 5 before the club retired it in honor of Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion.
Other things: Quintal once fought Eric Lindros and his big superstition was to not talk to anyone after 1:30 p.m. on gameday. Seriously. Look it up.
While it might be too soon to start engraving it on the Lady Byng trophy, the name “Matt Cooke” could soon be synonymous with gentlemanly conduct.
That’s something Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press touched on in a piece discussing the NHL’s culture shift of player safety. Cooke, arguably the most active cheap-shot artists of our generation, has been suspended five times for illegal hits. Yet this year, he seems to have turned over a new leaf.
Cooke’s focus is on skill, not kill — he has 10 points in 17 games with a plus-3 rating — and perhaps most impressively, he’s recorded just four penalty minutes.
“For Brendan Shanahan and player safety, here’s a guy that they can show on some highlights and the videos, where he’s not taking the hit or he is pulling up (in dangerous situations),” Penguins GM Ray Shero told Johnston. “He’s still got a ways to go. But in the first portion of the season here and exhibition as well, he has changed the way he’s played and he’s still a really good effective player for us in his role.
“That’s good news for us and it’s good news for Brendan Shanahan in terms of what he’s trying to do.”
The turning point for Cooke was in March, when he got tagged for his fifth and most recent suspension following an elbow on the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh. That one cost him 10 regular-season games and the entire first round of the playoffs — 17 games all told. But after spending the offseason re-evaluating his game and watching 30 hours of video, Cooke seems to have figured out how to be an effective NHLer without maiming his peers. Which is nice.
“I like the player, I like the person and I think he has got something to add,” said Shero. “After the McDonagh incident he did a lot of self-examination with his family and what he wanted to be as a person and a father and a player.”
Cooke’s transformation could be seen as a microcosm of what Shanahan hopes to do with the NHL. A combination of stern punishment, video integration and emphasizing player respect went a long way in Cooke’s rehabilitation — the same things Shanahan is utilizing as the new discipline czar.
The advancements in padding and other pieces of equipment presents an interesting dichotomy in sports. On paper, it would seem to keep athletes safer across the board. The only problem is that as helmets and pads inch closer to being indestructible, they shift from being articles of clothing meant for protection to dangerous weapons that players use against opponents. It’s an especially large problem when it comes to football helmets, but shoulder and elbow pads have become their own instruments of destruction in the sport of hockey.
Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard’s concussion issues are shining a strong light on player safety in the NHL, but it seems like the lower levels of the sport will serve as the laboratories for experiments of significant change first. In a previous post, we took a look at how Hockey Canada hopes to give its youngest players more non-checking options while the QMJHL is taking “proactive” measures to punish hits to the head. The OHL is another league that will take some serious measures to increase player safety by using soft cap shoulder and elbow pads during the 2011-12 season. The league claims it will provide harsher penalties for hits to the head as well, although they didn’t provide specifics to back up those comments.
A review of several player safety issues and equipment policies was also on the agenda and led to the decision that all OHL players will wear soft cap shoulder and elbow pads for the 2011-12 season. The decision is made in the interest of player safety and working in partnership with the CHL’s equipment suppliers in an attempt to further reduce the number of head injuries suffered each season. Furthermore in consideration of concussion awareness, the league will continue to reinforce player safety messages through educational videos while member club coaches will be emphasizing proper on-ice awareness. It is also the position of the Board of Governors that the league be more strict in the discipline of players who are repeat offenders for checking to the head.
Interestingly enough, the OHL will also institute an automatic two-game suspension for goalies who leaving their crease to fight another goalie. (The Rick DiPietro’s of the future just breathed a serious sigh of relief.)
Of all the safety changes that other leagues have considered lately, going with soft caps on pads isthe idea that the NHL should look into as soon as possible. Perhaps there might be some complications as far as sponsorship deals, but one must assume that the league would find a way around such concerns, especially if the older, harder pads become scarcer every year anyway. We’ll certainly keep an eye out for studies to see if the OHL enjoys a tangible drop in head injuries next season and beyond.
The OHL deserves a lot of credit for instituting this change. Hopefully other leagues – including the NHL – will follow suit in the near future.