BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The National Hockey League has four Hall of Fame-worthy players turned executives at its disposal and plans to use them as much as possible to serve as a bridge between the Players' Association, the Competition Committee and the Board of Governors.
The blue-ribbon committee of NHL front office executives Brendan Shanahan and Rob Blake, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman and Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk has been tasked by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the general managers to study all the possible ways of creating a safer environment for the players and ultimately bringing their findings to the Board of Governors for approval.
Dealing with stiffer supplemental discipline, the stricter enforcement of charging and boarding and possibly creating a rule that targets head hits beyond what is stipulated in Rule 48 (blindside hits) will all be part of their challenge. The goal is to present the Board of Governors something tangible in June so it can be voted on and hopefully enacted for the start of the 2011-12 season.
Shanahan, the NHL's V.P. of Hockey and Business Development, has also been asked to work in conjunction with the NHLPA on streamlining equipment so it continues to protect the players who wear it but doesn't act as a "weapon" against the opponent.
"What we're supposed to do is collect as much information from our managers, from the Players' Association, from the players directly, and we're going to try to find ways in which we can make some real changes that improve player safety in the game without hurting the entertainment value of the game of hockey," Shanahan said. "I do think people love the way the game is being played right now. We'll get down in the dirt, get our fingers dirty, and then we'll bring those recommendations to the managers, to the Competition Committee and to our Board of Governors."
It should come as no surprise that these four were put together for this committee: They all played in the post-work stoppage NHL, with Blake announcing his retirement only eight months ago. Shanahan stopped playing in 2009 while Nieuwendyk was done in 2007 and Yzerman finished up in 2006.
Their personal experience with the way the game is currently played in the NHL gives them a perspective unique from the other 28 managers and NHL front office executives. Since they are recently retired they also still have close ties to some current players and the PA, including Mathieu Schneider, who was recently named a special assistant to NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr.
"When we did our breakouts (Tuesday) it was to ask what a player would do in a situation, or what would they be thinking," Blake said. "All of us have played post-lockout, the different style and different speed in the game, so we have a pretty good relation of what goes on in the ice. So when we're talking about the general managers and to Hockey Operations, we can tie it all together.
"You need people that have been exposed to the new style, the different way the game has been played. We can add that aspect."
Yzerman said he doesn't have the same pulse of the players that he used to have, but he's around them enough and has enough access, especially to his own in Tampa, that he can easily get their opinions on various player safety issues.
"We view a lot of things internally and get to pick their brains on some ideas," Yzerman said. "I talk to our players and we'll look at any situation, out of 20 players you'll get six or seven opinions. They're not all going to agree on the same thing, and they're the ones out there, so they know."
Asked what he would like to target specifically as it relates to player safety, Shanahan mentioned equipment.
"I'd really like to see at what point does a piece of equipment go beyond protecting a player and cross over into a territory of now being used as a weapon against players on other teams," Shanahan said.
Shanahan never wore bulky equipment during his 22-year playing career and said as a result he "didn't have a feeling of invincibility." He believes too many players feel that they can't get hurt due to the size and texture of their equipment, specifically their shoulder pads and elbow pads, and that's not good for the players who are trying to hit them.
"There is a level of protection that we always want to provide for the players, but I don't know if it's right that players feel completely invincible on the ice, especially when those pads are being used as weapons against the opponent," Shanahan said. "There will be a lot of research put into that and I'm going to work with the Players' Association, Mathieu Schneider, with that. We're going to talk to specialists, doctors, equipment trainers, medical trainers and just get as much information as possible."
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