Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Losing Credibility

It's not an easy job to have. Colin Campbell called it a thankless job. No matter what you do, you won't please everyone. As the head of the NHL's Department of Player Safety, one must watch all serious hits or penalties and decide whether supplementary discipline is necessary. If you give a player a suspension, half the fans will say that you're turning the NHL into a Pansy League. If you decline to suspend a player, the rest of the fans will say that you don't care about player safety or that you favor big market teams, etc. And forget about giving someone a fine, because no one will be happy with that. It really is a lose/lose situation.

I was psyched when Colin Campbell was replaced by Brendan Shanahan this summer. I had grown tired of Campbell's terrible inconsistencies. It seemed the times that most required a suspension, none would be given. Other times, when he did give a suspension, you couldn't tell when or why he'd throw the book at someone. One of the dirtiest, most dangerous hits we've seen in recent memory was dismissed by Campbell as he labeled Marc Savard "a little fake artist" and allowed Matt Cooke to skate on, delivering more dangerous head shots. Other famous inconsistencies include the lack of a suspension on either hit that put Sidney Crosby on the shelf for nearly a year, the lack of suspension to Zdeno Chara after nearly decapitating Max Pacioretty, and the lack of suspension to Raffi Torres after he shouldered Brent Seabrook in the head during the 2010-11 Playoffs.

I was looking forward to a change from the supposed "Wheel of Justice" approach by Campbell. And I wasn't disappointed as the new suspension liaison, Brendan Shanahan, began a new tradition of issuing a video breakdown of each suspended play. The videos brought a level of transparency to the suspension process that NHL fans had never experienced before. The videos had their critics, but I felt that Shanahan's videos gave the league more credibility. However, Shanahan's most recent decisions might be the beginning of his loss of credibility.

About a month ago, Milan Lucic plowed into Ryan Miller as Miller came out of his crease to play the puck. One might argue that if Lucic had his head down, he wouldn't have seen Miller come out to play the puck or that Lucic only brought his arms up to protect himself in the collision. Lucic's explanation wasn't as bad as Ndamukong Suh's delusional tale of losing his balance as he stood up, but I'm still not buying it. The play resulted in a concussion to the Sabres franchise goalie (although Buffalo might have been happy to have an excuse to play Jhonas Enroth more), but apparently that didn't factor into Shanny's decision. Shanahan withheld the hammer and decided that Lucic's hit wasn't suspendable. If he knew what was coming next, he might have changed his mind.

On Miller's first game back, he was drilled with yet another hit. This time, Jordin Tootoo was driving hard to the net, when he was stripped of the puck and was cut off by Christian Ehrhoff, leaving him nowhere to go but the crease. To his credit, Tootoo jumped in an attempt to avoid collision with Miller, but that didn't matter to the Sabres, who after being roasted for merely giving Lucic a stern talking-to after he hit Miller, jumped Tootoo (how brave...).

Shanahan put himself in a bad situation. He had to either stay the course, recognizing that Tootoo's hit was significantly less violent than Lucic's (I should also mention that this hit didn't result in concussion), but also send the message that plowing over the goalie is acceptable. Or he could suspend Tootoo, trying to fix the precedent he had already set, but effectively contradicting himself. A lose/lose situation, in which he chose the latter option. No matter what he chose, his credibility would be damaged. And Shanahan probably found out why everyone hated Campbell, and if he hasn't found out by now, he will in the next few days.

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