Campbell Out; Shanahan In as NHL Disciplinarian

Future Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan has continued his climb up the ranks of the National Hockey League’s Head Office. With the news of Colin Campbell’s resignation from his post as principal disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan has been elevated to the position. He previously held the title of Vice President of Hockey and Business Operations.

Brendan Shanahan was taken 2nd overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. After four seasons with the Devils, Shanahan signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Blues where he continued his rise as one of the game’s premier power forwards.

In his four seasons with St. Louis, he averaged well over a point per game, including an outstanding 102 point year in 1993-1994. At the end of the following season, Shanahan would be traded to the Hartford Whalers for Chris Pronger, in what now would be the kind of blockbuster deal that would generate headline news on TSN.

In his one season with the Whalers, Shanahan led the team in goals and points, and served as team captain.

At the start of the next season, he was dealt to the Detroit Red Wings, where he played for 9 seasons, with his greatest success coming on a line with Steve Yzerman and Sergei Federov. Short of The Production Line, that might be the greatest line in Red Wings history. All together, Shanahan won three Stanley Cups with Detroit, scored 235 of his 656 goals, and was never below 25 goals or 53 points.

Shanahan finished off his career with two years for the Rangers, and finally ending it where it all started with one season back in New Jersey. He announced his retirement on Novermber 17, 2009, and the next month was named to his post as NHL VP of Hockey and Business Ops.

Shanahan also won an Olympic Gold with Canada in 2002, and the 1994 WHC, which in addition to the Stanley Cups make him a member of the Triple Gold Club. He was also a member of the Gold medal winning 1991 Canada Cup team, and was involved in the 1987 “Punch-up in Piestany”. Google that if you haven’t heard of it, it’s worth the read.

Shanahan has been highly regarded league-wide for his progressive, forward thinking style. During the NHL lockout of 2004-2005, he pioneered what would be dubbed the “Shanahan Summits”, a series of meeting designed to evolve the game. We can see his influence on the post-lockout NHL, as it is now a more free-flowing, open game than the clutch-and-grab frenzy that it had become.

Since taking the job as VP of Hockey and Business Ops late in 2009, it has seemed inevitable that Shanahan would continue to climb the rungs of the NHL ladder. Today’s news that he will succeed Campbell as the NHL’s disciplinarian is not a surprise, but a welcome change.

I have always felt that it was not in the NHL’s best interest to have Campbell, nicknamed “the Sheriff”, in such a high-profile and demanding position. His son, Gregory Campbell is a player for the Boston Bruins. That should have been regarded as a conflict of interest, and Campbell never should have been given the position in the first place.

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While it’s true that Campbell was not involved in disciplinary matters that involved his son’s team, there was always a feeling that Gregory’s teams were treated less harshly when it comes to punishment and suspensions than were the other 29 teams in the league.

Red Wings fans are familiar with some of Campbell’s most controversial rulings, including rescinding and automatic one-game suspension incurred by Evgeni Malkin following Game 2 of the 2009 Finals. Malkin would lead the Penguins to victory in Game 3, and evenutally to the Cup and win the Conn Smythe trophy in the process.

Some highlights from the past few seasons of NHL discipline:

Nick Boynton – 1 game suspension for throat-slashing gesture

James Wiesniewski – 2 games for an obscene gesture directed at Sean Avery

Sean Avery – 6 games for saying “sloppy seconds” on TV

Zdeno Chara – NO Suspension for a Major Interference penalty resulting in a severe concussion and fractured vertebrae to Max Pacioretty from driving his head into a stanchion

Andrew Ference: 1 game for an obscene gesture directed at fans (good thing he didn’t direct it at another player!)

Nathan Horton: NO Suspension for dousing a fan in water, and then hurling a water bottle at him (Those darn fans, always getting in the way of projectiles…when will they learn?!)

and my favorite trio of suspensions/non-suspensions from this year:

Dec 29 – Jody Shelley sucker punch : 2 games

Jan 8 – Ben Eager sucker punch: 4 games

Dec 26 – Milan Lucic ….$3,500 fine.

Campbell has always shown a reluctance to suspend star players for actions that would have caused anyone else to sit out a handful of games.

Campbell, when a slew of e-mails were revealed this year from Campbell to the NHL’s Head of Officiating, couldn’t even feign an aura of fairness, as he attacked several players by name, calling them divers and fake-artists, while pleading to have certain referees punished for calling penalties against his son Gregory.

The promotion of Shanahan is a positive move for the NHL. He is generally very well liked and respected, and should bring help to remove some of the stain Campbell has left on the NHL disciplinary process.

The best part is that since Shanahan does not have any offspring playing for any NHL teams, he will be able to rule in decisions regarding all teams, instead of just some. I’m certain he will be accused of being biased towards the Red Wings, where he spent the majority of his career, and the team he is most associated with, but the only way to change that opinion would be to be fair and just in all of his decisions.

Campbell’s decisions were widely mocked. Shanahan must be consistent and firm each and every time he comes down with a ruling, or he will face a similar fate to Campbell. He must not let star players get away with murder, as has been the status quo in the NHL.

It’s time for a new “Sheriff” in town. Best of luck Brendan.

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