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A New Era in NHL Discipline: Jody Shelley Suspension Explained by Brendan Shanahan Via Video

Sep 22, 2011, 9:29 PM EDT

Analysis of Brendan Shanahan and the NHL's new goal of player safety and disciplinary transparency, based on the example of Philadelphia Flyer Jody Shelley's lengthy suspension for boarding Darryl Boyce of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

When I was a young hockey fan, my daily rooting interests centered on the Flyers, as you might expect. However, as much as I wanted them to win above all other teams, I was for many years also interested in a number of players from other teams at any given time. Principal among them was Patrick Roy. He was the rookie goalie who took the NHL by storm the year I really remember first getting into hockey. Anyone who knows me well knows he’s probably my favorite player of all time.

Others included, oddly enough, Jaromir Jagr when he was with Pittsburgh but before I considered them an arch rival, Mario Lemieux, Cam Neely, and Brendan Shanahan, to name just a few. I always liked tough forwards who could score (not that Jagr filled the former quality, he was just amazing to watch play).

Because I admired him as a player and believed he respected both the glamorous and tough aspects of the game, I was perfectly satisfied when the NHL promoted Shanahan to the disciplinary or “player safety” position formerly held by Colin Campbell. Campbell’s reign was a joke to fans and media alike, with the Wheel of Justice illustrating the NHL’s manner of doling out discipline after dirty hits on the ice.

With increased scrutiny due in part to increasingly observant online and TV media, the old way wasn’t going to fly anymore, and Shanny was made the new face of discipline in the league. In addition to this media scrutiny, there was medical attention to the fact that more players’ careers were being shortened by the many blows to the head that can occur within a game, both legally and illegally. The league’s response, admirably, is a pledge to reduce contact to the head, punish repeat offenders, and to do so as transparently as possible.

On Thursday night, we got our first taste of the progress the NHL intends to make in this regard, and to no one’s surprise, one of the first men to be made an example of was a Phildelphia Flyer. Video and commentary below.

If you haven’t seen our previous post containing the video of Jody Shelley boarding Darryl Boyce, check that out before going further, or just watch this video, which is the centerpiece of this post.

While it certainly could have been worse, I’m not sure I saw anyone, regardless of the team they support or work for, come out after the game saying Shelley didn’t deserve a suspension for that. The league has declared its intention to legislate against and discipline exactly that time of hit and several others out of the game. You cannot hit a defenseless player into the boards from behind.

That much was obvious before the changes of the offseason. What this video shows is that the days of these decisions being made in a puzzling and often incongruous manner are over. Transparency is paramount alongside player safety in the NHL’s new manifesto, and so far, despite one of the first suspension recipients being a Flyer, it’s hard to be anything less than completely satisfied with what’s transpired.

If a repeat offender had smeared one of our forwards’ faces along the boards, we’d be calling out for both what Jay Rosehill did (beat Shelley soundly in an on-ice battle) and the league followed with—a suspension. For a moment, I was a bit surprised by the length of the suspension (the remainder of the preseason and five games of the regular season), but it makes sense to me that the league is sending it’s message fast and clear. Best of all, it appears to be attempting to shed the cloak that obscured its decision-making and allowed for abuse and inconsistency.  

Perhaps that’s optimistic, but this is in the very least a good first step toward putting a joke of a legal system in the past while hopefully making the league safer for its players. The NHL has posted a video commentary by its disciplinarian on its web site, for all to see and embed. We’ll be watching the process closely this season to see whether it continues on the path it set foot on today. While transparency is an obvious benefit to the league’s new initiative, consistency must accompany it.

Our guy got a suspension exceeding my expectations by a few games (aided of course by the fact that half of it is in the preseason), but if subsequent rulings are consistent with this one, you’ll find no objection here.