Brendan Shanahan: The New Sheriff In Town

Seven days, seven suspensions, adding up to a grand total of 23 pre-season and 24 regular season games; just another week at the office for Brendan Shanahan.

Nearly two years removed from the end of very successful playing career in the National Hockey League, which saw him score over 600 goals and 1300 points, whilst capturing three Stanley Cups in the process, Shanahan has undoubtedly hit the ground running in his latest endeavours as the NHL’s new Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Head Disciplinarian. The undisputed water-cooler topic of the pre-season has been the punishment Shanahan has doled out to offending players; swift, decisive, and most importantly, eye-catching. A refreshing change from the relative lack of reprimand we saw in the past by comparison when Colin Campbell held office as the league’s proverbial policeman.

Taking over from Campbell following his resignation on June 1st, on the eve of Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, it didn’t take long for the man previously known affectionately as “Shanny” to become “the Sheriff.” Shortly after the puck dropped on Game 3 of the Final in Boston, Vancouver Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome levelled Bruins’ power forward Nathan Horton with a devastating open-ice hit, a check that was clearly late and more importantly, targeted Horton’s head as the central point of contact. A wise man once said that you only get one chance to make a good first impression; and Shanahan did just that, throwing the book at Rome and suspending him for four games, ending his Stanley Cup Final experience prematurely just as he had cut short Horton’s.

The willingness of Shanahan to ban a player for the remainder of the Stanley Cup Finals brought him extensive praise from the media, fans, and even players and executives around the league; a suspension of that magnitude during the league’s championship series had simply never been done before, and most observers welcomed Shanahan’s actions as the start of a new era for the National Hockey League – one where player safety reigned supreme and slowly but surely, all the unnecessary violence in the game would be removed without sacrificing the sport’s key values of physicality and toughness.

Now entering his first full season as the league disciplinarian, Shanahan has not backed down whatsoever from the courage he showed during the Cup Final. As noted, Shanahan has already suspended a grand total of seven players during the pre-season alone for illegal hits, a staggering amount when you consider that pre-seasons past have usually produced about 1-2 suspensions each. The argumentative types and devil’s advocates of the world will tell you that it’s overkill, but Shanahan is simply doing everything in his power to try and curb players away from committing these offenses, which if you ask me, is certainly much, much more than his predecessor was willing to do.

The new methods with which Shanahan has gone about determining and announcing suspensions has also made waves around hockey circles. Rather than releasing a simple statement on behalf of the league, as was the norm in past years, Shanahan came up with the groundbreaking idea of starring in a video segment on the NHL website for every suspension he hands out, complete with footage of the incident in question, personal commentary from Shanahan on the various issues he has with the play, and finally the announcement of what punishment the offending player will be receiving. The videos have been a rousing success thus far, with critics praising Shanahan’s ability to concisely explain his formula for determining each suspension, justifying his viewpoint with numerous reasons and factors for why a said player is getting the punishment he’s getting. With the amount of suspensions we’ve seen lately, viewers should probably get accustomed (if not already) to the image of Shanahan, decked out in his now-infamous black blazer, white dress shirt, no-tie combination, speaking to the viewing audience, the accompanying video screen behind him prominently displaying the NHL crest.

Shanahan’s most talked-about suspension of the past few days has arguably been that of Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman James Wisniewski. At the end of a September 24th exhibition game against the Minnesota Wild, Wisniewski caught Wild grinder Cal Clutterbuck with a high hit, well after time had expired on the clock, whilst also extending his arm to directly catch Clutterbuck’s head. Although Clutterbuck was ultimately uninjured, Shanahan looked directly at Wisniewski’s history with the league as well as his action in determining the suspension length; Wisniewski was suspended two games in October 2010 for making an obscene gesture to New York Rangers forward Sean Avery, and months earlier in March, was given an eight-game sentence for a horrendous check on Chicago Blackhawks defenceman and former teammate Brent Seabrook.

With that in mind, Shanahan suspended Wisniewski for the remainder of Columbus’ pre-season campaign (three games) plus an additional eight regular season games, dwarfing almost every suspension we have seen in recent years. Also of note was not just the loss of game action for Wisniewski, who for all intents and purposes IS Columbus’ defence core, but the significant loss of salary as well. After signing a monster 6-year, $33M contract with the Jackets in the off-season, Wisniewski will now be forced to forfeit over $500,000 in pay due to the games he will miss. This is yet another example of Shanahan’s determination to treat any and all players equally, regardless of any sort of star status.

As we move into the 2011-12 regular season, only time will tell whether or not “Sheriff” Shanahan’s inventive new methods and techniques will truly take all the avoidable nonsense out of hockey, but he’s certainly doing, and will continue to do everything in his power to try and make that happen. You should expect nothing less from one of the most influential and respected figures in the history of the game.


George Prax's picture


In all seriousness, I like what he's doing, but i'm also a little worried. This is still preseason, and outside of a couple of the incidents they've all been hits at the hands of players who either have records or are fringe NHLers to begin with. What happens when Chara takes someone's head off or Ovechkin knees someone again? That's when we should really be looking to Shanahan, and even then, he's going to get a lot of reaction no matter what he does, and people are definitely going to be citing what he did this last week. It's going to be a dangerous slope for him to manage, so we can look at him in awe now, but we should also keep that in mind. Hopefully this is him sending a message, and players will actually listen when the games start to matter.
Ranger4ever's picture

Hey Quinn! I like your take on this. We must ot forget that it was Shanahan's summer sessions during the last Horrifying Lock-Out that resulted in all of the rule changes that make the League so much more enjoyable to watch. This made-in-Hollywood (I am told Shanny uses a tele-prompter during his "information sessions"!) approach to the Mess That Coley Made was something of no-brainer though: as the game's best player had his career hanging by a thread all through the last summer the League HAD to do something or risk killing itself off.

Now, if Shanny is a real genius he will find a way to revoke Jacques Lemaire's Hall of Fame credentials and come up with a rule to punish coaches like him who ROB the paying fans by subjecting them to joys of the "left wing lock" and other such variations on the trap. Now THAT would allow the healthy, non-concussed skill players to showcase their talents instead of lining up for twenty post-icing face-offs every third period where the trapping teams find themselves up a goal!!! But for now, I say congrats on a real and concerted effort to get the players' attention on the need to respect each other and stop the head-hits and other dangerous cheap-shots. Great article. Like George, I will be watching intently when Ovi ends up on the Shanahan Video Hour. I bet he doesn't flinch at hammering him, just like he did CLEANLY on the ice!