September 28, 2011
The NHL Senior VP of Player Safety introduces himself; gives the 'who, what, where and when' of the incident; breaks down the illegal play; reads the rule it violated; drops his catchphrase "as the video shows …." as he revisits the play; and then reveals the duration of the suspension.
The videos are concise, informative, emphatic and professionally done.
So there has to be a blooper reel, right?
"The blooper reel is extensive," said Shanahan on Tuesday from his office in New York City.
"I have great respect for the moment that I'm actually telling a player that I'm taking away his ability to play hockey. It's a serious moment," he said. "But certainly, it's hard to mention a game between the Ducks and the Canucks without throwing in a few things."
The blooper reel might be the only thing from Shanahan's Dept. of Player Safety that doesn't see daylight. The primary difference between Shanahan's brief reign as discipline czar and that of his predecessor Colin Campbell is transparency: Every suspension is given clarity, context and rational justification.
For example: The video announcing the 8-game suspension to Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski(notes) — the most high-profile player Shanahan's shown the gate — included three key points explaining the suspension and a strong rebuttal to Wisniewski's claim that he was defending himself against Cal Clutterbuck(notes).
"Other players want to see and understand what the strike zone is. Although you can't have an exact predictability on this, I want people to start to have a little bit of the predictability to it," said Shanahan.
In just one week, Shanahan has had a series of suspensions: Philadelphia Flyers winger Jody Shelley(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers, 5 regular-season games; Calgary Flames forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond(notes), 1 regular-season game; Buffalo Sabres forward Brad Boyes(notes), 2 preseason games, Minnesota Wild Brad Staubitz(notes), 3 regular-season games; Wisniewski, 8 regular-season games; Anaheim Ducks forward Jean-Francois Jacques(notes), 5 regular-season games. Every player except Boyes was suspended for the remainder of the preseason.
We spoke with Shanahan about the recent suspensions, the making of the videos, the criticism of Colin Campbell that's accompanied his success and whether he feels he's been over-praised too early.
Q. Are you surprised by how well the videos have been received? We've had fans and media from other sports tell us how impressed they've been with them.
SHANAHAN: Well, I appreciate that, but it doesn't make me happy.
I appreciate that people like that we're pulling back the drapes and letting them see what we said, and all the pieces of evidence that we considered. But I didn't start doing this to make good videos. I'll consider it a big success when I haven't made a video in two months.
Has anyone called B.S. on you yet for your rulings, behind the scenes?
[Laughs] I'm all about transparency, but that would remain private.
It's become pretty clear that having previous suspensions on a player's record is a big factor in your decision-making process. The CBA puts a statute of limitations on suspensions remaining on a player's record; for a guy like Jody Shelley, are you taking into account his entire history or what's on his record?
After 18 months, a player's repeat-offender category, which is used for calculation of a fine, resets. But as far as a player's historical incidents, they all still can come into the judgment and they always have.
I see a distinction between a repeat offender and someone who has a history of violent infractions. For instance, when a player's in that 18-month category, instead of being susceptible for the loss of 1/185th of his pay, it sets down to 1/82nd of his pay. After 18 months of no incidents, it resets.
General managers, owners and players would come up to me at various times in the offseason and say, 'The guys who do this over and over and over again are the ones really risking our health and our careers.'
We do our best in each video to explain the ruling: Here's why this one is big, and why this one is not big. I still believe in one or two-game suspensions when the situations warrant it.
So do you appreciate that a number of these suspensions have the disciplinary equivalent of a tap-in?
I recognize that people say that.
But I thought it was interesting that for a player like Brad Boyes, someone in my department spotted the hit. The referee didn't spot it, Buffalo didn't spot it, Toronto didn't spot it, the whistle didn't go. When we brought it up to Brad, he didn't even remember it until we showed him the video. It was almost like the other side of pendulum: a player who's almost never gotten a penalty in his career let alone a supplemental discipline incident.
Had we had five Brad Boyes situations, people would be saying I'm not tough. It's just that the situations that we've had, four out of the five have been guys who have a history.
You talk about 'tap-ins,' but Wisniewski was a prized free agent last year.
Was the biggest thing with Wisniewski the fact that he hit Clutterbuck after the buzzer or because of his priors?
Both were significant to me. This is his fifth suspension since March 2008, even if one of them was the Avery suspension. I think that he was really polite, very contrite; when you hear these guys, I understand them. I've been in their shoes. I've been on the other side of that phone call many times in my career. But I also think about the 700 or so other NHL players who all contend that someone can do this accidentally once, but when somebody starts doing it multiple times, we have to figure out a better way to get the message.
Somebody had said he got eight games for the hit on Seabrook and he's only getting eight this time. I thought it was interesting that the Seabrook case had more elements to it because there was a serious injury. Repeat offender plus injury plus intent … it's all bad stuff.
Even though I didn't think this hit was as bad as the Seabrook one, the fact that the Seabrook incident was this third and this was his fifth is why it came up to equal it.
When you banned Shelley for what amounts to 10 games, are you cognizant of setting a benchmark for the rest of the season?
I'm not so interested in benchmarks and numbers. I've heard some people say it's a 10-game suspension, and others say five. It's tough to gauge suspensions in the preseason, because how many of those games was he going to play? It's easier to say that he's suspended for the rest of the preseason and five regular season games.
I really want to provide as much consistency as I can, and the videos force us to ask ourselves a lot of questions.
Who writes the video scripts?
A few of us. We write a general script and then we add this or address that. We do it after the hearing. We want there to be some predictability to it. Some of it might become repetitious, but that's how we want to teach.
I'm sick of saying my name and my title. But we have to try and remember that as much as we've seen each one, there are some people seeing it for the first time.
Are you ever going to make videos on NHL.com for plays that don't result in a suspension?
Yes, once I can come up for air. [Laughs]
We've already picked a few that sort of looked bad but had the elements [of being legal]. If a player turned or made a movement just prior to or simultaneous with the hit, the player may not be suspended.
It'll be more like a summary. There might be something during the season where we say, 'This needs to be addressed tomorrow.' But this will be more like a teaching summary. I think most of the time the players only get a chance to see examples of suspensions in which a player made a bad decision.
But we're also compiling videos of players who have made good decisions in bad situations. I think a little positive reinforcement is important — that there are physical guys who are getting this. Players who a year ago would have made a hit and are now trying to take a different route.
All of these explanations are a huge change from the way Colin Campbell approached this gig. Are you comfortable with the comparisons being drawn between you two?
It's actually been really upsetting me over the last few days, because I still rely on him almost daily.
I just think he's one of the most moral people I've ever met in hockey. He was a great teammate when he played. He's a great dad who raised a son to play in the NHL. He's built the War Room. He's built this whole department. He's one of the reasons I got hired in the first place.
He and I are not one vs. the other. He's helped me transition to do this. It was Colie who recognized that it was time for a new voice. If people want to see this first week as successful, they have to understand that Colin is as responsible for it as anybody else.
My impression of Campbell was that by the end of his run, the politics and the perceived biases and the decade-long list of rulings just crushed the office under their weight. It was like being a Supreme Court Justice with a lifetime of rulings.
And you always get remembered for the controversial ones, too. It's pretty incredible he did this for 12 years. I've been at it for a couple of months. I've only had a week of actual games. I can't predict the future, but I'm not sure I'll still be doing this in 12 years.
I wasn't a Campbell fan, but in fairness to him: I don't think people appreciate that you're dealing from a different deck here. That while his office had its hands tied by a rulebook that didn't address, let's say, contact with the head, you have a more liberal set of rules.
I just think that what Colie has done, and continues to do here, is incredible. I wanted to make that clear. [The criticism] I thought was completely unfair, and he's a humble guy that's not going to pick up the phone and complain about it.
That said: It's clear there are differences in your approaches to the job and your approach, at least at the start, seems more effective.
It's having just played and knowing some of these guys. There will come a time when I'll be a player the guys on the ice won't remember as having played. Right now, I know some of them. I played with some of them. Same with Rob Blake(notes) who helps me a lot with some of this.
One of the guys I brought over with me worked with Colin since Day 1: Damian Echevarrieta, who's been crucial to this department. The file on every single suspension that's happened in the last 12 years, Damian has in his head. He helped build the War Room. He's helping me hire coordinators to watch games. Rob and I may have played the game and Damian hasn't, but having a file cabinet in his head is what Damien can do.
I don't think you have to had played at the NHL level to have a great understanding of the game of hockey. Scotty Bowman didn't.
Do you think you're being over-praised right now at this stage of your VP of Player Safety career?
Praise makes me nervous. I know that praise also gets people to line up in the criticize category, and I know this is a job with a lot of criticism.
It's inevitable. There's going to be a controversial play, there's going to be a controversial decision. But again: When that happens, people will see it from the inside out.
For me, it's like having a good first few games and knowing that there are 79 more to play, plus the playoffs.
What I appreciate the most is that I'm hearing that the players are finding this easier to understand. That drive me to keep doing this. I didn't get involved in this to be making videos — and I really didn't think I'd be making this many this soon. But the fact that a lot of players are calling and I'm hearing that all the players are watching … they come from a generation where they don't want to read what to do or be told what to do, they want to see what to do. It's a video generation.
Are the players your primary audience when you're making these videos?
The players are my primary audience. For instance, the video that we sent out at the start of camp, I wanted them to see it first, but then I thought it was important for our fans and our partners in the media to see it as well.
In my mind, when I read or write these things, the players are my primary audience, but I want people to feel like they're eavesdropping on a conversation I'm having with the players.