It has been a busy pre-season for Brendan Shanahan, who hasn't wasted any time making his mark in his new role as NHL Senior Vice-President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations.
Following a philosophy of trying to make the sport as safe as possible while maintaining the game's physicality and competitiveness, Shanahan has handed out eight suspensions before the puck has even dropped on the regular season.
"I don't think I went in with necessarily a number or an expectation, just the knowledge that change is hard, we've made some adjustments," Shanahan told James Duthie on the NHL on TSN Season Preview Show on Wednesday. "Pre-season is definitely a challenge. There are other pressures on players to make teams, get noticed, and not everybody is a regular NHLer, so I knew it would be a challenge."
Shanahan is no stranger to discipline delivered by the league, having been suspended or fined himself several times during his on-ice career. While some could see the convergence of his past and present as a bit hypocritical, Shanahan believes the suspensions he received were deserved and that his history makes him uniquely qualified for the job.
"We all care deeply about the game and we care deeply about the players," he said. "Ultimately we try and remind ourselves a lot of the focus goes on the guy that's getting suspended and the games that are being taken away from him and rightfully so, that never escapes us. But we try to remember also the other players in the league and the ones that we are trying to keep safer.
"We know that there are always going to be risks when you play the game of hockey. We want to guard the physicality in the game of hockey but there are certain hits that we've been instructed by our general managers and by the players to try to eliminate. And sometimes the action of trying to eliminate those hits is hard."
Despite the uphill battle that he is faced with, in a role that is rarely applauded and often criticized, Shanahan believes strides in the right direction have already been made.
"It's only been a week and we haven't even started the regular season yet and I don't think players get enough credit for some of the changes they've already made," he explained. "I know the suspensions get a lot of attention, but we put out a video today showing players making great decisions on the wall and we've seen some big open ice hits.
"Ultimately the real success of this isn't going to be up to me or the NHL or the managers or the Union. It will be up to the players and they will get the credit if all of a sudden the game becomes a safer game and we see concussions going down. Our players deserve the credit if that happens."
The videos, which were the brainchild of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, are being used as a teaching tool for players to highlight both the legal and illegal plays made in games.
"When I do the videos it's not to embarrass anybody. I'm speaking to the players and I almost want everybody to feel like they're getting to eavesdrop on that conversation," said Shanahan. "It's not to say 'here's how you have to think'. Whether they like it or not, this is at least the thought process that went in from all the people at players' safety and hockey operations."
Shanahan took over his new position when Colin Campbell stepped away as head disciplinarian in June. However, Campbell has not completely removed himself from the process as he has provided Shanahan with advice and guidance.
"It's almost like playing a game," Shanahan described. "You always intend to play your best game and you want to have a perfect season, but you're going to make mistakes. You always want to be at your best and [Campbell] has really helped me in that regard."