Since Brendan Shanahan assumed the role of Head of Player Safety and NHL Disciplinarian, 30 suspensions have been handed out (15 more than at the same point last year) with the most recent being a seven-game suspension to Daniel Carcillo. Some say his methods are radical; others say they are exactly what the NHL needs. Few, however, have asked what implications they will have on the game.
Many players in the league have made a name for themselves as enforcers—big hitting, unforgiving players who don’t show an inch of mercy. These are players like Shawn Thornton, Matt Cooke, Ben Eager, Jody Shelley, and of course Daniel Carcillo. Basically any tough guy falls into this category.
But what happens to these types of players when the way they play becomes a liability to their coaches and teammates? What happens to them when Shanahan is giving out more suspensions than ever to plays that arise from aggressive, hard-hitting plays—the type of plays these players do on a regular basis?
What happens is they are slowly filtered out of the NHL.
We have already seen Cooke tone down his aggressiveness and become a more complete player for the Penguins, but for players like Shelly and Eager who do not have the same offensive capabilities Cooke does, there will soon be no place for them in the league.
As time passes and the game evolves with the increased enforcement and harsher punishments, coaches will stop playing these types of players and general managers will stop drafting them. Instead, young players will be given more opportunity. Teams will get younger, faster, and more skilled. Fourth lines will not be a line of goons any more, but will rather be another line of scoring or defensive grit.
When the game of hockey reaches this point, there is no way players like Ryan Strome, Mark Scheifele, and Nino Niederreiter will be in the minors. They will be on their respective NHL teams and they will be thriving.
This new, more offensive make-up of the NHL will become a reality if the level of disciplinary action maintains its upward trend.