There are plenty of things to look forward to next season. Will the Bruins be able to repeat? Will the Canucks be able to take the next step? Will all of the Panthers’ changes make a difference in the standings? The list goes on and on. But one of the most interesting changes has nothing to do with an individual team. How will Brendan Shanahan do as the NHL’s new head disciplinarian? It’s an important question that will shape the game as much as any individual play, player, or team on the ice next season.
Since the moment it was announced he’d be taking over for Colin Campbell, Shanahan has explained the importance of communication at all levels. Not only is it important to make the right decisions for each possible suspension, but it’s important that everyone knows what goes into each decision.
From his introductory press conference:
“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.”
Part of the communication process will be the transparency of the suspension process. Time and time again, fans and media members alike have been dumbfounded with the league’s decision making process revolving around controversial plays. Part of Shanahan’s plan is to make sure everyone knows the thought process that goes into each and every hearing—whether a suspension is warranted or not. Recently he told Nicholas Cotsonika of Yahoo! Sports his plans for the upcoming season:
“You might not agree with our decision, but you’re going to understand how we got to that decision. This is not a black-and-white job. It’s not completely predictive. But over a certain amount of time, I hope that they sort of start to understand what the strike zone is.”
Hopefully people will start to understand the guidelines by the end of the season. If Shanahan plainly explains what constitutes a hit, what doesn’t, and why they made each decision, the players will be able to adjust their games accordingly. Unfortunately, just because the league office aims to be more consistent and transparent, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will immediately trickle down to the players. Suspensions will be important to send messages, but not everyone will receive the message until it happens to them.
“I’m still a big believer that one- and two- and three-game suspensions for certain infractions to certain players are really effective teaching moments. Maybe a hockey play goes bad, or there’s a play on the edge and something happens. A two- or three-game suspension has a devastating effect on them, and they change their behavior.
“There are other players that sort of seem to keep reappearing, and the communication I’ve had from players and the union—for the sake of the game and the safety of the game—those are the guys that might be dealt with a little bit harsher.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens the first time someone delivers a questionable hit next season. Instead of spinning the “Wheel of Justice,” next year, we should get a glimpse behind the curtain for the first time ever. We’ve always been left with questions like, “What were they thinking with that suspension?” Now, we’ll replace those questions with, “I can’t believe that is why they gave him a suspension!”
Hopefully down the road, those statements will finally be replaced with, “Yep, that decision makes total sense.” Hey, we can dream, right?