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Before we look ahead to another exciting NHL season, I want to re-visit my final call in this blog (see archive) posted the day after the Bruins brought the Stanley Cup back to Beantown.
I criticised the language of Rule 48 that in my view, inadequately addressed the culture of head hits.
I also pointed to the inconsistency with which supplementary discipline was applied, thereby creating confusion for players, officials and the hockey world in general as to what was deemed acceptable. This general confusion adversely affected the overall standard of enforcement applied by the referees throughout the playoffs. The end result of all this was that players were being unnecessarily subjected to injury; often serious in nature.
Enter Brendan Shanahan as newly appointed Senior Vice President of Player Safety.
While still playing, ‘Shanny' was directly responsible for the 'New NHL' mandate following the lockout. I suggested that with this appointment he was in a position to establish order and reinstitute the 'New NHL' mandate that, during last year's playoffs, unfortunately resembled the way of the old NHL - or worse!
I must applaud Brendan Shanahan for his firm and consistent handling of each incident that he has been called to rule upon during this pre-season schedule. Changing player attitudes and poor decisions with regard to excessively dangerous contact won't happen overnight. Brendan receives an A+ in my first marking period.
While some bemoan that Shanny's decisions will be the ruin of the game, how can anyone be overly critical of a mandate designed to hold players accountable for what is deemed to be illegal thereby providing for 'Player Safety?'
I am in favour of a clearly understood standard that forces players to make responsible decisions with regard to body contact when their opponent is in a vulnerable position and where excessive contact could result in injury.
I fully endorse hard body contact on the puck carrier in all areas of the ice, but not when players leave their feet and check upward above the shoulders or excessively drive an unsuspecting player from behind into the boards or glass.
No differently than any other rule change or the implementation of a new standard in past years there is a learning curve that results. Brendan Shanahan has set a new standard that is pretty clear in terms of dangerous hits and hits to the head.
Through his excellent use of video to justify legal and illegal body contact we all should have a much better understanding as to what is acceptable and that which is not.
Shanny, I offer one piece of advice - stay the course and maintain the courage that I saw from you so many nights on the ice as a player. Your game plan is solid. As you continue to execute it with firm, fair and consistent decisions the game and the players will thank you for it in the end.