One of the worst-kept secrets in hockey was confirmed Monday when the NHL announced former defenseman Stephane Quintal would be the permanent replacement for Brendan Shanahan as senior vice-president of the league’s player safety department.
But although the department was modernized and improved under Shanahan before he left in April to take the role of president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Quintal – who's been working as interim chief of player safety since Shanahan departed – immediately will have more than his share of challenges ahead.
Some of those challenges come with the territory. The 45-year-old Quintal will have his motivations called into question constantly and unfairly, just as Shanahan did and just as his predecessor Colin Campbell did. Fans are going to examine every element of Quintal’s 16-year NHL career and toss out preposterous conspiracy theories on his motivations and supplementary discipline decisions. The truth about the process – namely, that the chief disciplinarian isn’t a dictator and works in concert with other members of the player safety department before rendering any verdicts – won’t register with every fan. So he’s just going to have to get accustomed to that.
However, Quintal also will have to make decisions in an increasingly reactionary league whose fan bases break down every second of high-definition video footage and reach consensus on precisely nothing. The threat of a rising tide of legal action from former players suffering from concussion-related symptoms will create pressure in some corners to ratchet up the suspensions Quintal hands down, but he’ll also have to deal with the same core of traditionalists who want the status quo maintained at all costs, as well as hyper-zealous GMs, owners and players who’ll recoil in horror at any serious punishment – the same way they did when Shanahan hit James Wisniewski with an eight-game suspension in 2011 that cost the Blue Jackets defenseman a whopping $536,585 in salary – and push the league to demand more wrist-slaps and fewer punishments of consequence for future offenders.
It’s a thankless job Quintal is taking on and he’ll regularly be blamed for issues out of his control (the CBA dictates the penalties he can apply to players, and neither the league nor the NHL Players’ Association made a priority of giving a chief disciplinarian the ability to be more punitive). But seeing as Quintal has been a member of the department since it was formed in 2011-12, he’s likely aware of this.
It’s tempting to wish good luck to Quintal, but luck won’t help him much in this job. To best serve the game, he’ll need a healthy supply of earplugs and a stiff spine to see him through the tsunami of hate that’s headed his way – and that's about to arrive on his shores a few weeks from now.