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Brendan Shanahan will bring change to the hapless Maple Leafs … slowly

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Coach Randy Carlyle and the Toronto Maple Leafs

Expect a new look on the ice and perhaps behind the bench in Toronto next season. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

By Allan Muir

Forced into an early reveal by rumors that spread on Thursday night — apparently the defense is as leaky in Toronto’s front office as it is on the ice — the Maple Leafs confirmed this morning that Brendan Shanahan has been appointed to the position of President and Alternate Governor of the struggling club.

It’s a sensible career move for the Hall of Famer, who leaves a thankless gig as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian in order to oversee all team operations for a club that could really use a firm hand after missing out on the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years.

And given the reputation for innovative thinking and consensus building that he earned during his tenure with the league — remember the post-lockout Shanahan Summit that led to the creation of the competition committee and implemented ways of enhancing skill and speeding up the game? — he seems like a fairly safe bet for the Leafs, too. Shanny’s shy on front office experience, but he’s a guy who has proved that he can learn on the job, a skill that will come in handy as he takes on this new exercise. And he has some seriously thick skin, a necessary tool for anyone signing on with this organization.

SI.com Fan Misery Rankings: Maple Leafs take top dishonor

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  • Published On Apr 11, 2014
  • Shawn Thornton of Bruins to appeal 15-game suspension for Orpik attack

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    By Allan Muir

    Shawn Thornton may be genuinely remorseful about knocking out an unsuspecting Brooks Orpik, but that doesn’t mean that he’ll accept his 15-game suspension without a fight

    It was confirmed by the NHLPA just before today’s 4 p.m. deadline that the Bruins enforcer would contest the ruling handed down on Saturday by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

    But while he has every right to the appeal, he’ll be in tough to convince Commissioner Gary Bettman that he deserves leniency, even as a first-time offender.

    MUIR: NHL sends clear message with Thornton’s 15-game ban

    Bettman, who earlier this year upheld Patrick Kaleta’s 10-game suspension in the first major test of the new two-step appeal process, has one overriding concern: to ensure that the league is seen as being strict and firm in cases where a head injury is sustained. Diminishing that perception in any way could expose the league to legal liability down the line.

    That doesn’t mean this is a pointless exercise, however. Bettman reduced a suspension to habitual offender Raffi Torres from 25 games to 21 after his infamous 2012 playoff assault on Marian Hossa. If Torres caught a break, anyone could.

    But if Bettman holds the line as expected, Thornton can take his appeal one step further to an independent arbitrator. Kaleta chose not to pursue that route, but the NHLPA may “encourage” Thornton to serve as the test case for this right, which was newly acquired in the most recent CBA.

    There’s no word yet on when the initial appeal will take place. We’ll update when we know more.


  • Published On Dec 16, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! Shawn Thornton gets 15 games for attack on Brooks Orpik

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    Shawn Thornton's punches on Brooks Orpik landed him the second-longest suspension of the Brendan Shanahan era.  (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

    Shawn Thornton’ was handed the second-longest suspension of the Brendan Shanahan era. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

    By Allan Muir

    The NHL sent a clear message in giving Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton a 15-game suspension for “pulling [Brooks] Orpik out of a scrum, yanking him to the ice and punching him multiple times, leading to a serious injury.”

    The message is not so much to one player (Thornton) who had crossed the line, though. This suspension was all about letting lawyers and ex-players and anyone else who is inclined to take the league to task for its approach to violence know that it is capable of policing itself and is serious about eliminating these incidents.

    In handing down the second-longest suspension of the Brendan Shanahan-era, it didn’t matter that Thornton was a highly respected player who has assayed the role of enforcer with honor for more than 500 games. This wasn’t a hockey play gone wrong. It was a dangerous act of premeditated retribution. With this sentence, the league made it clear that kind of incident will be severely punished, regardless of a player’s motivation or reputation.

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  • Published On Dec 14, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! Ottawa’s Jared Cowen suspended for head shot

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    By Allan Muir

    With the main course of Shawn Thornton’s attack on Brooks Orpik still a couple of days away, NHL player safety czar Brendan Shanahan busied himself with the amuse bouche of Jared Cowen’s head shot on Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons.

    This is the sort of hit that wouldn’t have earned a second thought just a couple years ago, so seeing the Ottawa Senators defenseman handed two games for driving his shoulder directly into the chin of Girgensons is a clear illustration of the current state of non-tolerance for head contact.

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  • Published On Dec 11, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! Dion Phaneuf to sit out two games for boarding Kevan Miller

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    By Allan Muir

    Apparently, roaring in from the hash marks to blast a player between the numbers and drive him headfirst into the boards is still frowned upon by the NHL.

    After reviewing the evidence of Dion Phaneuf’s cheapshot on Boston’s Kevan Miller on Sunday, the Department of Player Safety has suspended Toronto’s captain for a pair of games. He’ll also forfeit more than $66,000 in salary to the Players’ Emergency Relief Fund.

    Interestingly, Brendan Shanahan lays some of the blame on Phaneuf’s teammate, David Clarkson, noting that his slash buckled Miller’s plant leg, contributing to the awkwardness and violence of his contact with the boards. Of course, it wouldn’t have been an issue if Phaneuf laid off when he only saw numbers.

    “The onus is on him to avoid the hit completely, or at least minimize it more than he does,” Shanahan said. “Miller was never eligible to be hit like this in the first place.”

    This is the sort of hit we’ve seen routinely over the years and, more often than not, the player is sore but relatively unscathed from the contact. But it’s also the kind of impact that has the potential to cause serious harm, including concussions and facial or back injuries. There are smarter decisions to be made in this situation, and suspensions like this should help reinforce that point.

    Miller was clearly fouled, but not seriously injured on the play, so two games sends a message of non-tolerance while it leaves the league some room to lay the hammer down the next time this happens and the victim doesn’t bounce up as readily as did Miller.

    CAZENEUVE: NHL rules, The Code, and fighting meeting in dark place


  • Published On Dec 10, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! James Neal gets five games for knee to Marchand’s head

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    By Allan Muir

    The first suspension has come down after a series of violent events marred Saturday night’s game between Boston and Pittsburgh.

    The NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Monday suspended Penguins forward James Neal five games for kneeing Boston’s Brad Marchand in the head.

    The decision must have come as a huge surprise to Neal, who, after the game, claimed no ill intent. “I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I’m not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that,” he said.

    But league safety czar Brendan Shanahan, displaying no evidence of having fallen off a turnip truck recently, wasn’t buying Neal’s golly-gee act.

    “With a clear view of Marchand and plenty of time to avoid him, Neal skates directly through Marchand’s head with his left knee,” Shanahan explains in the league’s suspension video. “This is more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player. Neal turns his skates and extends his left leg, ensuring contact is made with Marchand’s head.”

    A five-game suspension is the longest Neal could have received with a phone hearing, and the speed with which it was delivered suggests Shanahan didn’t see a lot of room for interpretation on the call.

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  • Published On Dec 09, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! Kevin Westgarth suspended two games for boarding

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    By Allan Muir

    Kevin Westgarth couldn’t have made it any easier for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

    The Carolina forward was suspended two games today for a breathtakingly stupid hit on Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki on Sunday.

    The Senators defenseman had just blown a tire on the corner and was trying to regain his feet when Westgarth barreled in from the face-off circle and planted Borowiecki head first into the boards.

    It certainly wasn’t the hardest or cheapest hit we’ve seen this season, but, as Brendan Shanahan explains in the suspension video, “at no point, from the moment Westgarth changes direction, is Borowiecki ever eligible to be checked. Borowiecki is completely vulnerable…[and] Westgarth never stops or makes an attempt to slow down. This is a time when Westgarth should completely avoid contact.”

    That’s what common sense would dictate, anyway. This is one of those cases where respect for the safety of his opponent should have slammed the brakes on Westgarth. Since it didn’t, and since Borowiecki was injured on the play, this was the call Shanahan had to make.

    MUIR: Players face uphill fight in concussion lawsuit against NHL


  • Published On Nov 26, 2013
  • Brendan Shanahan: “I hate what Ray Emery did, but…I have to follow rules”

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    By Allan Muir

    Brendan Shanahan was on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon on Tuesday and, not surprisingly, the talk eventually made its way to the Ray Emery vs. Braden Holtby fight.

    Shanahan was blunt in his assessment of Emery’s actions, saying “I hate what Ray Emery did.” But he was quick to add that he had no authority under the current rules to assess a suspension or fine as a result of Emery’s actions. “That’s not a decision I can make on a Saturday night because I don’t like it. I have to follow the rule book.”

    Shanahan then issued a challenge to the men in charge of making the rules.

    “If the caretakers of our game, the general managers, don’t like it, it’s important to say when a rule is not properly addressed in the rulebook, and I don’t think it is.”

    For the rest of Shanny’s take, including why he didn’t use the Aggressor rule to address this situation as he did in suspending Matt Carkner back in 2012, check out the video above.


  • Published On Nov 05, 2013
  • SHANABANNED! Sabres’ John Scott suspended seven games for head shot

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    By Allan Muir

    Brendan Shanahan took his sweet time deciding what to do with John Scott after the Sabres’ lunkhead nearly decapitated Boston’s Loui Eriksson more than a week ago.

    At least he used it wisely, deciding to suspend Scott a total of seven games.

    He made it clear that Eriksson was hit directly in the head and that Scott, who cut across the ice to take him out, had other plays to make that would have been effective and legal.

    “On this play,” Shanahan said, “the onus is entirely on Scott to ensure that Eriksson’s head is not the main point of contact.”

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  • Published On Oct 31, 2013
  • Patrick Kaleta’s suspension upheld by NHL; Does NHLPA dare appeal again?

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    By Allan Muir

    In a perfect world, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman would have sat patiently through the more than three hours of testimony during Monday’s appeal proceedings for Patrick Kaleta’s 10-game head shot suspension. Then he would have stroked his chin, deliberated for about five seconds and said, “You know what? Let’s make it 20.”

    Instead, he did what most observers figured he would. He upheld the suspension that was initially handed down last week by discipline czar Brendan Shanahan, ensuring that the Sabres’ serial predator would be kept off NHL ice for the better part of a month.

    Not ideal, but it could have been worse. Bettman could have bought in to the laughable defense posed by the NHLPA that no rules had been broken because “the contact to [Jack] Johnson’s head was unavoidable.” Or that Shanahan failed to consider that a “material change to the body of [Johnson] immediately prior to the hit” significantly contributed to the head shot.

    Or he could have agreed with the PA’s contention that the length of the suspension was “disproportionate and excessive” because Shanahan improperly considered Kaleta’s previous violations.

    Instead, Bettman slapped those lightweight arguments down in his 17-page decision and called out Kaleta for being the punk that he is.

    GALLERY: NHL’s dirtiest players

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  • Published On Oct 24, 2013


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