Now Shanahan looks like a visionary

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

We all know Brendan Shanahan is a goal-scorer.

We all know he can set the tone of a game physically.

We all know he is a leader but who knew he is a visionary?

When the National Hockey League gets underway again in October, it will be done under what could be termed the Shanahan Plan.

You may recall it was last December when the Detroit Red Wings power forward -- against the advice of many -- called a two-day hockey summit in efforts to improve the game in the midst of the league lockout.

It needed improving and a lot of players knew it. Shanahan decided to do something about it so he reached deep and paid to bring in a diverse group of 21 hockey people to discuss ways to make the game more entertaining.

"I'm not that smart -- I'm just good at gathering real smart guys around me," Shanahan said yesterday.

"We all hear great ideas about the game but they just kind of disappear and I just thought if we could just organize these thoughts we might have something."

In came Montreal Canadiens general manager Bob Gainey, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella, ex-ref Terry Gregson, TV host Ron MacLean and players from Toronto's Mats Sundin to Detroit's Curtis Joseph. Considering the labour strife, Gainey called Shanahan's initiative "gutsy."

But, as it turns out, it was very rewarding even after the former London Knight picked up the tab.

The most sweeping rules changes in the history of the NHL are virtually certain to make the game more attractive for spectators. The timing of Shanahan's freelance foray into improving the game could hardly have been more timely.

After a season on the shelf, the NHL absolutely needed something pretty appealing to a fan base disgruntled by the abandoned season. This, it would seem, is it.

"New and Improved" sounds like laundry soap marketing but it rings true in this case. Fans might finally get what they've been clamouring for.

Much of it involves common-sense revisions that will add offensive punch via two-line passes, a larger offensive zone and an end to Michelin Man goaltender pads.

While we have witnessed a number of ill-fated "crackdowns" on restraining fouls, it appears the competition committee that evolved from the Shanahan Plan intends to make it stick, to allow the stars to show their talents rather than be dragged back by outplayed lessers.

Something a large segment of fans has sought for years, a shootout, undoubtedly caused a few hard swallows but was adopted. Wearing them or watching them, not many people like ties and they've been stripped from the NHL.

It's tough on the goalies but should be on everyone, since the object is to decide a game in regulation time and certainly in overtime to avoid a dramatic three-a-side penalty shot derby.

"Fans will be excited about the penalty shot immediately," Shanahan said. "The fans overwhelmingly want it and deserve it. I want to stress that the other changes won't be felt overnight but they'll change the game in a positive way for sure.

"We were trying to find ways to hurt the (defensive) trap," he said, and the emphasis on focusing on neutral-zone hooking and holding is the rules response.

Whatever, the NHL will embark upon a new season with tools designed to enhance flow and scoring. It took a long lockout and a forward-looking guy named Shanahan to develop the equipment for what is a rebuilding project.

Which prompts a question. Brendan Shanahan is known on the ice as hyper-competitive and unyielding, off it as bright, humorous and insightful across a long career that covers NHL, Olympic and world championship honours.

Now that he has shown some remarkable statesmanship, you can legitimately wonder whether his post-playing career will involve further custodianship of hockey.

He hasn't thought about that yet. He's 36, healthy, and feels he has a lot of hockey to play.


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