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NHL sends wrong message by appointing Parros as head of Department of Player Safety

George Parros, with more than 1,000 penalty minutes and 169 career fights, has been named the head of the Department of Player Safety, and again the NHL is sending the wrong message.

If you can give the NHL credit for nothing else, you absolutely have to salute this league for having the courage of its convictions. When the people who run the NHL get an idea in their heads they think is a good one, they run with it without worrying about such annoying matters as optics. And in the case of promoting George Parros to director of the league’s Department of Player Safety, the optics are god-awful.

Since the NHL created the department in 2011, there have been three people at the helm – Brendan Shanahan, Stephane Quintal and now Parros. Those three players have combined for 4,901 penalty minutes and 378 fights in the NHL. Coincidentally, Parros ranks third in PIMs with just 1,092, something to do with the fact that he averaged just 5:56 of per-game ice time in a 474-game career. But he does sit well atop the fight total with 169 bouts in the NHL.

It’s true that Parros was never fined or suspended once during his career. It’s also true that he’s a graduate of Princeton University who had a 3.18 GPA and scored 1,250 on his SATs. But the fact of the matter is that enforcers in the NHL are far more intelligent than most average fans think. They are the guys who realize very early in their careers that they’re not good enough to make it to the NHL on their limited skill level, so they make a very wise and conscious business decision to try to become millionaires by using their fists.

We get it. He’s bright. So put him in a business development department or make him part of the league’s financial team. Perhaps he could be one of the lead negotiators with the players on CBA matters. After all, he majored in economics and wrote his thesis about a longshoreman’s dispute. And he definitely has the business savvy, having established a clothing line that goes by the name Violent Gentlemen.

Good grief. This is a department that is supposed to at least give people the perception that it takes player safety seriously. So appointing a guy with more than 1,000 PIMs and 169 fights sends all the wrong messages. Surely someone in the league’s head office must have red-flagged this appointment. Maybe not. There’s a lot of evidence to show that these people don’t really care what people think about them.

So what’s next? Is Garth Snow going to be appointed to head up the efforts to reduce goaltending equipment? Will Craig Ludwig become the new lead man charged with finding ways to open up the game offensively? Would Chris Pronger, a former DOPS employee himself, be willing to step down from his post with the Florida Panthers to head a committee to look into the cross-checking and slashing epidemic that has hit the league? Perhaps Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres could be recruited to help the league reduce predatory hits and head shots.

It’s not so much that Parros is a part of the department that handles league discipline or that he’s even the head of it. After all, the FBI often hires former hackers as cyber special agents. It’s that the league continues to fill this department with these kinds of players. With the exception of short stints by the likes of Rob Blake and Brian Leetch, I can’t think of any other former players who have occupied that department who have not been known for playing at times on the wrong side of the rulebook. And again, having the perspective those kinds of players bring can be a valuable thing. But why does it have to be so tilted in the direction of tough guys? Where are the likes of Marc Savard, Martin St-Louis and Brad Richards in this department? Richards just took a job in player development with the New York Rangers so it’s clear he still wants to be involved in the game.

The real problem is the fact that it really doesn’t matter who heads up or works for this department. The reality is that the league could name Lady Byng herself as the Director of Player Safety and nothing will change until the people who surround this position, many of them ex-players and tough guys themselves, stop exerting pressure on the department to skew things in favor of violence. The influence of ex-players is more prevalent in the NHL than it is in any other major professional league – to its detriment, in my opinion – and until the league rids itself of that mindset, we’re still going to see slashes and cross-checks to star players such as Sidney Crosby in playoff series defined as “hockey plays.”

Perhaps Parros will prove his detractors wrong. That would be a welcome sight. As has been pointed out, he certainly has the intelligence for the job. But it’s the culture of hockey that has to change and until that happens or unless Parros can extricate himself from that and be allowed to do his job independently, it will be more of the same.

Carry on, then.


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