Grading Brendan Shanahan's Performance as Head NHL Policeman

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2013

ST PAUL, MN - JUNE 24:  NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan looks on before day one of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at Xcel Energy Center on June 24, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's called the Department of Player Safety.

The man in charge is Brendan Shanahan.

Some call him the dean of discipline, while his technical title is the NHL's Vice President of Player Safety.

He's in charge of reviewing all plays that occur on the ice that could result in player discipline.

If a player is going to be suspended for an on-ice infraction, Shanahan is going to review the videotape, talk to game officials, meet or talk with players and investigate the situation as fully as possible.

Once the investigatory work is done, Shanahan must make a decision on whether a player needs to be suspended and for how long the suspension should last.

That's a huge responsibility, and the whole world is watching.

Shanahan took over the job from Colin Campbell following the conclusion of the 2010-11 season. It's a job that Shanahan had to know would result in much criticism and scrutiny.

But he has done an outstanding job.

Critics will point to specific cases and wonder why player A received a five-game suspension while player B got 10 games and player C didn't get anything, but there's a method to Shanahan's decision-making process.

It involves assessing a player's intent, past history and the damage done.

Fans and coaches don't like his rulings when he comes down hard on their players, but he comes out as impartial and fair in discussing his decisions that he makes available to the public on social media.

This takes the mystery out of it. Shanahan explains what happened in the incident, demonstrates the misdeed in slow-motion and in detail and is mindful of the history of those involved.

The process is transparent and logical.

Are all of Shanahan's decisions proper or correct? That's in the eye of the beholder.

But the record seems to indicate that nobody is immune and all players are subject to discipline based on their actions.

Brad Marchand, Raffi Torres, Max Pacioretty, Alex Ovechkin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were among those suspended in 2011-12. Corey Perry, Patrick Kaleta, Ryane Clowe, Taylor Hall, Jannik Hansen and John Erskine are among those suspended this year.

Shanahan acts quickly and in a thorough manner. He does not treat players in a harsh or draconian manner. He merely explains the situation and issues the necessary remedy.

If you look at two of the most notorious incidents involving Torres' head hit on Marian Hossa in last year's playoff series between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Chicago Blackhawks as well as this year's vicious hit by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta on the New York Rangers' Brad Richards, it seems that Shanahan has ruled consistently.

Torres was hit with a 25-game suspension (later reduced to 21 games) because of the viciousness of his illegal hit, the damage done to Hossa and Torres' reckless history.

Kaleta's head shot on Richards resulted in a five-game punishment and it was an ugly-looking hit that could have caused serious damage to the New York star. The difference was that Kaleta's hit did not come with anything close to the force that Torres used to level Hossa.

Shanahan did not suspend Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke after he lacerated Erik Karlsson's Achilles following a collision in the corner. Cooke raised his skate and came down on Karlsson's vulnerable tendon.

No suspension was issued—despite Cooke's long history of misdeeds—because Shanahan believed that it was nothing more than an accident at the conclusion of a hockey play.

Personally, I agree with journalists Larry Brooks of the New York Post and Don Brennan of the Ottawa Sun, who thought Cooke's actions were reckless and deserved discipline.

But that's not the way Shanahan saw it. He made his own determination based on his view and his experience.

Many may disagree, but there's a consistency in approach and rulings that are worthy of great praise by the former eight-time All-Star player who finished his career with 656 goals and 2,489 penalty minutes.

He has tackled his job with enthusiasm and handled it with aplomb.

Shanahan's not perfect, but he gets an "A-" for the job he has done handing out discipline.

He's been solid to this point and with more experience, he will get better.