There truly is a new sheriff in town.
Brendan Shanahan delivered a strong message as the NHL embarked on a new era of discipline, handing Flyers forward Jody Shelley a 10-game suspension and Calgary forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond a five-game ban Thursday and accompanying each with a slick video explaining the ruling.
The videos were posted on the NHL’s website and ran a little more than a minute apiece, with Shanahan describing what rule was broken while video replays of each incident were shown.
In Shelley’s case, he was suspended for the rest of the pre-season and first five games of the regular season after hitting Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce from behind on Wednesday night. Shanahan cited Shelley’s two suspensions last year, and the fact Boyce suffered a broken nose on the play, as factors that weighed “heavily” in his decision.
“The video clearly shows that Boyce has his back to Shelley well before the contact,” Shanahan explained on the video. “Boyce does not put himself in this position immediately prior to, or simultaneously, with the check. Shelley has time to avoid the check completely or at the very least minimize the contact.
“This is a clear violation of the boarding rule.”
Letourneau-Leblond was also disciplined for a breach of the expanded boarding guidelines that were introduced over the summer. Rule 41.1 states that “the onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenceless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact.”
On Tuesday night, the Flames forward hammered Matt Clackson of the Vancouver Canucks into the side boards from behind.
“Leblond has time to avoid, or at the very least, minimize the check,” said Shanahan. “Instead, Leblond takes a direct route and drives through the check hard and high and from behind.”
Shanahan replaced Colin Campbell in June and was given a mandate to increase player safety. He plans to issue a video with each ruling in an effort to bring transparency to the decision-making process—an area where critics often felt Campbell fell short.
The first rulings issued should put NHL players on alert that he’s taking the job seriously. However, Leafs coach Ron Wilson doesn’t think it will completely eliminate incidents like Shelley’s hit on Boyce.
“We have laws against speeding, right? We have drunk driving laws; you can be executed if you murder somebody, (but) it doesn’t stop this stuff from happening,” Wilson told reporters Thursday. “There’s human nature involved, the game’s very fast. And you just stop thinking for a split second, those kind of things happen.”
Shelley is considered a repeat offender after being suspended twice last season and will forfeit US$67,073.15 in salary. He’s eligible to return Oct. 20 against Washington.
Letourneau-Leblond, also a repeat offender, will give up $6,402.44 in salary while sitting out Calgary’s remaining four pre-season games and its regular-season opener. He can return to the lineup Oct. 10 when the Flames visit St. Louis.
One thing Shanahan has in common with Campbell is being forced to get to work early with suspensions in pre-season. It’s happened each of the last three years.
During his long playing career, he was suspended by all four men who handled discipline before him, giving him a unique perspective on the sport’s most thankless position.
“I played this sport, I understand the passion that’s involved,” Shanahan said last month. “I broke a lot of rules when I played and wasn’t always happy when I got punished—even when I deserved it. I totally understand the passion that’s involved in hockey and it’s one of the reasons why hockey’s a great sport.”