Building Case Law

by Corey

Brendan Shanahan is now in charge of NHL discipline. It is his responsibility to see that rules and procedures during games are ultimately being enforced or followed. This position has been vacant for several years as Colin Campbell, the former tenant of that position, was grossly incompetent at his task.

The NHL has a problem with players attempting to kill other players during play. Hits are being delivered to players who are in clearly vulnerable positions. These hits are delivered simply for the sake of being delivered and nothing more. The wonderful result of this trend is that we are currently deprived of the talents of Sidney Crosby, the face of the NHL, as well as the talents of Marc Savard, who was pretty good at hockey before someone decided that his brain was using too many neurons. These hits, along with others that didn’t result in permanent damage but were hella filthy regardless, all occurred under or shortly after the long tenure of Campbell.

Let’s role play kids!

This is usually how disciplinary hearings went.

Setting: The office of Colin Campbell. An NHL player sits across the desk from Campbell, his agent sitting next to him. He has recently hit a defenseless player from behind during a game, resulting in said player being diagnosed with a concussion and an uncertain road to recovery. This would be his third suspension for hits to opposing players.

Campbell: You boarded another player.
Player: I know that, and I apologize. I never meant to hurt him.
Campbell: Two game suspension! (spins in chair while blowing in a kazoo.)

This sends a message to players that if you take advantage of another player during a game and hit him while he is vulnerable, nothing will happen to you. Good luck. Just don’t kill him, because then we’ll be on the news as a league, which NEVER happens.

Now what would’ve happened if those meetings went like this:

Campbell: You boarded another player.
Player: I know that, and I apologize. I never meant to hurt him.
Campbell: Thirty games. This is your third time here, and you clearly have a patterned problem in understanding the rules of this game. Be warned that if you return to this office again for this offense or any other that may be construed as taking advantage of other players while vulnerable to inflict harm we will suspended you for an entire calender year. Get out.

This seems pretty serious. Maybe so serious that dudes wouldn’t do it again.

Now, we have this.

Most people think this suspension is a bit larger than it seems because Shelley would not have played in all of the games he was docked. Regardless the initial reaction to the suspension in positive. The vibe out of NHL Network was that Shanahan was laying down the new law on how these rules would be enforced and how players would be protected. Just the reaction is all you need to use to judge Campbell’s tenure. If a reaction is necessary and new explanations along with transparency to the process is required to make people feel like progress is being made, than the previous method of doing things and the people in charge of it sucked. If they didn’t suck, why would progress be necessary at all? Simple logic people.

Is this going to be enough to make players act in a responsible fashion? I don’t know. I’d like for the league to stop judging players on an individual basis and rule base don league behavior as a whole. Players watch other games, they can see how rules are being enforced and who is getting suspended for how long. What? You didn’t know hitting from behind was bad? Where the hell have you been, asshole?

I will be suspicious of the NHL in terms of protecting their own players until the change takes place on the ice, but laying down harsher case law is a good step. Explaining in clarity why suspensions are being handed out and how the player in question violated the rules is also good, but only if it helps to reinforce to players on what not to do. I appreciate the league telling me, but I ain’t playing the sport. The dudes on the ice are the ones who need to know. Connected to this, in fact the most crucial part, is that now players are being clearly informed they have to be held accountable for knowing the consequences of their actions. They will see Shanahan explain why you don’t hit from behind, so all players should consider themselves warned. No more taking into account a players previous actions or behaviors. Those days must be over if the athletes who make up the National Hockey League are going to be properly protected from themselves.

Bring the hammer. There may be culture shock, but it is a far better trauma than alternative.