When Brendan Shanahan left the NHL to become czar of Toronto (unofficial title), he left a considerable void at the top of the League’s Department of Player Safety. Not only because Shanahan was at the forefront of the department’s impressive overhaul in the last three seasons, but because he was its public face.
That’s not an easy gig. Half the hockey world thinks you can’t handle the job, the other half thinks you’re in bed with some teams because of past relationships, and everyone at some point assumes you’re a hypocrite.
It takes a special type to deal with that on a daily basis. Someone like Brian Leetch, for example – an NHL great that was in line for Shanahan’s job – declined to accept the challenge because of that public role.
Which is to say the talent pool is somewhat limited to people who are (a) as qualified as Shanahan and (b) that can handle being the League’s precedent setting lightning rod for discipline.
As of now, two men have stepped up for that assignment: Stephane Quintal, a former NHL player and an assistant under Shanahan in the department since 2011; and Claude Loiselle, a former NHL player whom Shanahan fired as an assistant GM with the Toronto Maple Leafs earlier this summer.
Quintal interviewed on Friday. On Sunday, Larry Brooks of the NY Post said Loiselle is expected to be named the new VP of NHL Player Safety, an announcement that should arrive after some vacation time is up for NHL execs.
Why Loiselle? He’s part of the team. He served as the NHL’s associate director of hockey operations for seven years, working on salary arbitration, collective bargaining and some discipline issues. He has a law degree from McGill.
Most importantly, he worked closely with Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, who had hiring power for Shanahan’s replacement. He has a lot of fans in the NHL front office. To say Loiselle would have the inside track is an understatement; wonder if he still has an office in NHL HQ in Manhattan?
If it’s Loiselle, and we have no reason to believe it won’t be, what does this mean for the department that Shanahan helped create?
One thing is clear: In the short term, the department remains as Shanahan left it.
It’s far too late in the game for any significant changes to be made to player safety for next season. That means the same approach, much of the same brain trust (Damian Echevarrieta, the vice president of player safety, and Patrick Burke would return) and the same standards that have been previously established.
After next season, all bets are off. The department will become whatever Loiselle and the NHL want it to become. It’s not as if Shanahan was a loose cannon, but I’ve always felt he had some level of autonomy to shape the department has he saw fit. Will Loiselle have the same opportunity, or will he be a proxy for Daly and Gary Bettman?
I think change at the top of the Department of Player Safety is a good thing. It hits the reset button on precedents, rulings and personal biases. It brings in a fresh voice and perspective. Stay in the job too long, and suddenly you’re making rulings on your son’s NHL team, right Colin?
Player Safety heads should be like Doctor Who: Regeneration every few years, refreshing everything except the basics. And for Brendan Shanahan’s department, the basics were about communication with players and the public, targeting hits to the head and laser-focusing on players that are repeat offenders.
If Claude Loiselle keeps that focus, the department is in good hands.
Well, that and if he can take being burned in effigy once in a while by an unruly fan base …