Brendan Shanahan admits that as a player he committed the infractions he must now crack down on as the NHL’s new discipline czar. (Lou Capozzola/SI)
By Stu Hackel
When the NHL season starts tonight, fans and the media will have one eye on the action and the other on Brendan Shanahan, the league’s vice president of safety, who has taken over the job of disciplining players for flagrant violations of the rules. Because of the escalation in dangerous play during the past few seasons and the heightened awareness of the effects of concussions on players’ long-term health, his is now one of the most important jobs in hockey.
It is also the worst job in hockey.
Perhaps only Gary Bettman among hockey personages has been more reviled over the past dozen years than Shanahan’s predecessor, Colin Campbell. Maybe it’s a tie. How deserving either man has been of all that scorn is a matter for discussion, but that does not alter the facts: The person who enacts league discipline on players will likely end up hugely unpopular.
The rancor can come from the fans, who either want the perpetrator banned (if not shot) or, if he plays for their favorite team, exonerated and hailed as some sort of hero or martyr. No matter what, some group is unhappy.
It can come from the media, this blogger included, who are not averse to assuming the role of an outraged God in these little morality plays. And it can come from the teams, who don’t want their players removed from the lineup. In their eyes, their players do little or nothing wrong. It’s often the victim who is to blame, at least partially, and the perpetrator’s clubs often transmit that message to their local media for dissemination to their fans.
The one who has to enact justice, the standards for which are developed by the teams themselves, often catches the most hell of all.