Brendan Shanahan, the National Hockey League’s senior vice president of player safety, has justly received a heck of a lot of praise for his commitment to consistency and transparency in regards to doling out suspensions during the NHL preseason. While it is unquestionable that Colin Campbell held a difficult job as the NHL’s disciplinarian, Shanahan has taken a different approach in that same role, which is both refreshing and somewhat comforting. Shanahan’s video format for explaining suspensions is revolutionary. Never has a professional sports league so clearly communicated its decision on a controversial matter or matters to the league members and the public.
In sharing the videos explaining why the player in question was suspended, Shanahan is clear and concise. He explains the play as it appears on the screen in a way that both seasoned veterans and casual fans can understand, a feat he should be particularly commended for.
Because the public is privy to the videos and explanation, it’s something we all can learn from. The videos may be particularly beneficial for parents and coaches of amateur hockey players, and the players themselves, as an education tool.
By showing why an NHL player is being punished, it provides a teachable moment for the player in question, the other players around the league and anyone playing competitive hockey from Bantam on up.
As the primary goal of any hockey player, the league has an unofficial responsibility to set the standard for the way the game should be played.
Perhaps unwittingly, Shanahan and his staff have significantly impacted the way amateur hockey players can be taught right from wrong. It’s unlikely that the vast majority of youth coaches across the country will be sitting their teams down to watch NHL suspension videos, but Shanahan has provided the opportunity for them to do so.
Bodychecking is a skill that needs to be honed. It can be learned in practice, but is difficult to implement into many players’ games at the younger ages. Now that bodychecking has been delayed to the Bantam age level in the United States, players are at a different maturity level when they begin checking. They can better absorb the information they are taught, making the videos potentially more valuable to players of that age.
By showing step-by-step examples of why a check is illegal, amateur players essentially have a step-by-step blueprint of what to avoid. Illegal hits in the NHL almost definitely would be punished in any checking league or level in North America. While the game is vastly different at the NHL level, the rules are generally the same.
For parents, the videos provide a chance to teach the values of sportsmanship, fair play and accountability to their hockey-playing children. NHL players are held to high standards, but to ensure the safety of all hockey players in checking leagues, those standards need to somehow translate to the amateur game.
Without the benefit of video or a dual-referee system in most levels of amateur hockey, the onus is on the young players to play the game the right way to protect each other and themselves. It’s a hefty responsibility for kids as young as 13, but as we continue to learn more about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), it’s a necessary responsibility.
The punishment of illegal hits at the NHL level hopefully leads to a decrease in such hits in the league, while also trickling down to the lower professional and amateur levels.
Shanahan may be doing a great service to the National Hockey League and its players, but he’s also found a way to benefit the game as a whole. By clearly explaining his decision process and showing us why punishment is being levied, it gives us a better understanding how the game is supposed to be played (or at the very least how not to be played). Shanahan has set a higher standard for all players to live up to.
Time will tell whether these videos are cleaning up the game, but there’s no question that Shanahan’s work is a step in the right direction.