Shanahan setting the tone
|Brendan Shanahan brings a unique perspective to the game. (MARK O'NEIL/QMI Agency)
PHILADELPHIA - As the only player in NHL history to compile 600 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes, Brendan Shanahan brings a unique perspective to the game.
He can see hockey through the eyes of a star player, the guy who gets paid to produce offense on a nightly basis. He also can understand the mindset of a guy who gets his paychecks for delivering physical punishment on the opposition.
Shanahan's dual perspective should help him in his new job as the NHL's Senior Vice President of Player Safety, a title that puts him in charge of levying suspensions against players.
Unlike Shanny's previous post with the NHL as VP of Hockey and Business Development, this job is not a fun one. The previous post allowed Shanahan to come up with creative ways to improve the game and he won over many fans with not only his ideas, but also his enthusiasm.
The current job, however, is not one that a person takes to make friends. Just ask the guy who previously wielded Shanahan's power, Colin Campbell, a man who was villanized, often fairly, during his lengthy tenure as the league's disciplinarian.
While Shanahan officially took over his new job on June 1, the start of preseason has brought about his first real tests as Player Safety VP. Since the exhibition schedule began on September 19, the league has handed out five suspensions, and four of those bans will extend into the regular season.
The biggest penalty was doled out to Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski, a player who was well known to Campbell and has already caught the eye of the new boss. Wisniewski, who signed a six-year, $33 million deal with Blue Jackets this summer, will miss the rest of the preseason and the first eight games of the regular season for an elbow to the head of Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck after the horn had sounded at the end of the third period.
With the Wisniewski suspension, Shanahan picked the right time to make a statement. The hit was to the head of a defenseless player, it came as an act of retaliation and was delivered by a guy who is not only a repeat offender, but also a player with offensive skills that will be missed by his team.
The message was designed to have maximum impact. It should be loud and clear enough for not just Wisniewski, but the entire league to hear. The Blue Jackets will be hurt greatly by not having Wisniewski for almost the entire month of October and that certainly won't help the club in its quest for just the second playoff appearance in team history.
It also won't help Wisniewski in the wallet department either, as he will be docked $536,585 in salary over the course of the punishment.
While Campbell's tenure was marked by inconsistent rulings, Shanahan is attempting to make things less fuzzy at the start of his reign. After all, if the league really wants to do prevent head injuries, then only a straight- forward and consistent approach will work because players have to know where the line is if they want to stay on the right side of it.
And if Wisniewski doesn't think twice about purposely targeting a player's head when he is permitted to return to action next month, things will only get worse for him. Wisniewski's current suspension was made longer by the fact that he has a prior history of league discipline. If he and Shanahan cross paths again, that history should carry even more weight and, therefore, even lengthier suspensions.
Eventually, Wisniewski and other repeat offenders would either have to learn from their mistakes or spend an ever-increasing amount of time suspended.
The days of debating whether or not stiffer penalties for illegal hits will curb head injuries is over. Unlike Campbell, Shanahan knows that it's past time that theory gets put to the test.