Up in the illustrious NHL offices in New York City there sits a man, alone in the dark. It is 10 o’clock on a warm November night and the only light that shines in the room flashes from a lone flat screen television that is mounted on the wall. Accompanying the glow of the television is the muffled voice of the Boston Bruins play-by-play announcer, Jack Edwards. When the light and sound come together, they form a specific highlight from the November 12th game that had the Buffalo Sabres take on the Boston Bruins. The one minute, twenty six second video clip shows Boston forward Milan Lucic knocking Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller to the ice on a dangerous breakaway play. After watching the clip a few times, the man in the dark stands up, turns the television off, and decides to go home. He realizes that he has made the first big mistake of his second career.
In June of 2011, the National Hockey League witnessed a change at the security gates. Colin Campbell, who served as the Senior Vice President of player safety and hockey operations which included being chief player disciplinarian, decided to step down after being bombarded with the notion that he was crossing ethical lines – given that his son, Gregory Campbell, was a forward for the Boston Bruins. Campbell’s replacement was an injection of youth into the system. Brendan Shanahan, a retired 22-year veteran was poised to take the role after establishing himself as a leader on and off the ice. The table was set and a new era was about to begin.
It didn’t take long before Shanahan made his presence known. In September of the following season, he quickly handed out nine suspensions to offending players in the preseason alone. Dubbed “The Shanaban”, he had no problem throwing his power around and thus clearly explained his conclusions via video clips on NHL.com. He followed his September rulings with four regular season suspensions in October. The Shanaban Hammer was being powered at full strength and the NHL was finally taking disciplinary duty seriously.
Fast forward to November 12th. Buffalo vs. Boston.
During a 6-2 victory over Buffalo, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic hits Ryan Miller on a powerful shoulder-to-shoulder check after Miller comes racing out of the crease to avoid giving Lucic a breakaway chance. The result of the hit had Miller dazed and skating around to collect his equipment while Lucic was sent to the penalty box for a two minute charging call. The hit received little retaliation from the Sabres and the game continued on. Before the end of the game, Miller left the contest with concussion like symptoms and the Bruins sealed the win with 3 goals against backup Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth. After the game, there was plenty of sparks flying as words were heard loud and clear. Miller was quick to point out what he thought of Lucic and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff declared that the NHL was okay with declaring an open hitting season on goaltenders. But as the dust settled, no action was taken by the league on Lucic’s hit and the Shanaban Hammer stayed inside its case. The public outcry was contagious and Brendan Shanahan decided to take a day or two off.
Looking back on this situation, all three parties were to blame for handling this situation poorly. First, the Sabres need to brush up on their goalie instruction. In a situation where the goaltender decides to skate after an incoming puck that is beyond the crease, the goaltender should poke check the puck away while sliding on his side and stacking the leg pads. Essentially, the main goal of the player is to clear the puck and purposely trip the oncoming player in the process. If you’re looking for an example, Tuuka Rask gave us a rough idea on how to do this a week or two ago. Apparently, Miller forgot this part of the game. It is his own fault for not knowing how to properly play the puck. And telling us that Lucic is a piece of [feces] isn’t anything we don’t already know. If you look at his player card, it is clearly written in the notes section.
Secondly, Milan Lucic should have avoided Miller at all costs. When you see a michelin man suited goalie stagger after a puck, cut your losses and regroup. Open ice hits on goalies, while enticing to a player, aren’t the best way to showcase the brutality of the game. Ironically though, I do not fault Lucic for trying to steamroll Miller. Until the league mandates that hitting the goalie is completely off limits, why not try to pick your spots? Lucic knew what Miller was capable of between the pipes. Eliminating a talented (although struggling) player like that can do wonders for Boston’s efforts to win the game.
However, the person who takes the most responsibility for mishandling things is Brendan Shanhan. Not only did he fail to act as the disciplinarian for the league, but he also made a complete fool of himself by criticizing the Buffalo Sabres organization:
“It’s completely irresponsible for people in Buffalo and management to suggest that it’s open season on goalies. I can assure and warn the players that it’s not. I’ll view each and every one of these cases case-by-case.”
Do I need to remind Mr. Shanahan that the way to assure the league that it isn’t open season on goaltenders is to set a clear example to those that try to harm or injure goalies? Actions speak louder than words. In this specific scenario, he had an opportunity to protect the players. He failed miserably. In a discipline hearing for athletes, it is always better to over disciple than under discipline. And if he is still not sure how set an example, Shanahan could always talk to NBA commissioner David Stern. Handing out a 2 game suspension was not only the correct call, but it should have been the expected call. When you are in a position where the players do not respect you, words do not mean much. The last thing that Shanahan and the league needs to do is plant the seed of doubt amongst the players, media, and fans in reference to their disciplinary power.
Chalk this one up as strike one for the Shanaban Hammer.