CALGARY - Brendan Shanahan wants to be clear: He isn’t looking to take fighting out of the NHL.
Nor is he looking to diminish the physicality of a game that saw him partake in 97 NHL scraps over 21 seasons.
One day after snippets of an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge insinuated the league’s new disciplinarian would essentially help spearhead an inquiry of sorts into the future of fisticuffs, Shanahan told QMI Agency his stance was nothing new.
“All I was really trying to say is the NHL has always looked at this and everything,” said Shanahan from the league’s New York City office Friday.
“It was not about initiating something. The NHL looks at all facets of the game. Our GMs meet several times a year and discuss the game — they give us direction, and it’s our job to follow the direction. This isn’t about me saying, ‘We should do this.’ I was more or less trying to say that a group of men definitely have been looking at studying all things, including fighting.”
And it will continue to do so.
Asked if he was concerned what sort of message some took from the report, Shanahan was frank.
“I can’t prevent people misinterpreting what I said,” Shanahan said.
“The quote is simply saying the NHL and our 30 GMs are always watching things like this closely.”
In a one-on-one interview with Mansbridge that will air in its entirety Saturday, Shanahan suggested an issue that has come to the forefront due to rampant concussions and the death of several enforcers this summer will indeed be examined at the highest level.
“Well, I think it’s something that we have to look at,” the NHL senior VP of player safety told Mansbridge.
“As we evolve, we learn more and more about head trauma and brain trauma. You know, I’ve played with a lot of these guys who do this for a living — several of them have been my roommates. They’re courageous guys — they’ve got a gene in them that is all about protection and defending their friends. But I worry for them. And I think that is something — along with the competition committee and along with the NHLPA — that we’re definitely very serious about making advancements and studying blows to the head.
“We have to also look at fighting. Now what the final decision is, I can’t tell you now. That’s obviously something that we’re going to have to look at. But there is no way that we would ever deny that it’s not something that we’re looking at closely.”
Incidentally, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been on record in the past saying fighting is a part of the game that will not be removed.
Roundly applauded for his transparency (via video explanations for each suspension) and tougher stance on headshots and dangerous hits, Shanahan seems to have turned what many deemed ‘the toughest job in hockey’ into a public relations success. So far, anyway.
“It’s only been a week,” said Shanahan, well aware plenty of criticism will come in time as it did for his predecessor Colin Campbell.
“I would say it’s probably the most criticized and scrutinized job … definitely challenging. To be put in position of player safety, I feel is important and makes me want to watch games with a different eye. The direction I’ve been given by GMs is to make the game as safe as possible while maintaining physicality. It’s not a pleasant job, for sure. Even when you think you are doing the right thing, you are delivering bad news to people.”
Indeed, people like James Wisniewski who will forfeit more than US$500,000 in salary, may not be thrilled with his precedent-setting suspensions.
That said, Shanahan insists he has yet to receive push back from the NHL Players’ Association.
“The PA has been supportive in developing the role and been very cooperative up until now,” Shanahan said.
How cooperative the NHLPA would be if talk of abolishing fighting emerged remains to be seen.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.