PEBBLE BEACH, CA -- The NHL's Department of Player Safety believes players have been adapting to the new set of standards imposed in 2011 when Brendan Shanahan took over as the League's senior vice president of player safety and hockey operations.
That is the message Shanahan delivered Tuesday in his address to the NHL's Board of Governors during the final day of the two-day meetings here.
"Brendan was able to demonstrate to the Board that players, as a group, are starting to change behavior, and behavior is getting better than when he first took this job," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "I think the Board was very comfortable that we're making progress in this area."
This week, Shanahan has already handed out two suspensions. Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal was given a five-game suspension for kneeing Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand in a game Saturday. Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf was given a two-game suspension Tuesday for a hit he delivered to Boston defenceman Kevan Miller in a game Sunday. Phaneuf's hit was deemed to be a boarding infraction.
Friday, Shanahan has an in-person hearing with Boston forward Shawn Thornton at the NHL office in New York City. That is in regards to an incident in the game against Pittsburgh in which he injured defenceman Brooks Orpik. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, any player facing a suspension of six or more games must be offered the opportunity for an in-person hearing.
Since the 2013-14 regular season began, the Department of Player Safety has handed out 15 suspensions totaling 59 games. Three additional players have been fined for actions in a game.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the feeling is that the Department of Player Safety has been successful in educating players while allowing the game to maintain its physical nature.
"If you studied the videos that [Shanahan] has put online, the specific instances where supplemental discipline is imposed or the more general tapes that he's put online explaining what the standards are of play, people should take a great deal of comfort that we're being extraordinarily proactive," Commissioner Bettman said. "In a game where, through the course of a season, you have 55,000 hits, as Brendan said [Tuesday] there are probably 50 or 100 that we don't like. But it's again about an ongoing education process. It's about modifying an element of the game's culture, and we think we've made positive, dramatic steps forward."
Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said he believes progress is being made because incidents like the ones in the game between the Bruins and Penguins at TD Garden are becoming rarer.
"The type of thing that Neal did, I can't even remember seeing a thing like for [a long time]," Poile said. "And Shawn Thornton, he seems to be a stand-up guy who plays his role really well. He's already said he made a mistake, and he's going to pay for that. I don't think that stuff will happen very much."
Part of the improvement is because the players are feeling the effects of the discipline from the Department of Player Safety.
"I can say from my perspective that I think players do feel the effect of the suspension," Shanahan said. "Whether it's two games or a lot more games, I think that players don't like to be in that position; they don't like the game taken away from them. As far as increasing the amount of games and the standards, that would certainly be something we couldn't do on our own but we could do as a group."
New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello suggested that longer suspensions may bring about an atmosphere that would speed up the progress in changing on-ice behavior of players.
"The safety committee, the enforcement committee, they're doing everything they can," Lamoriello said. "The responsibility has to be on the players as well. This is their game as well. They have to have respect for each other. Sooner or later, somebody is going to miss a season. Maybe that fear will stop what we do see and what liberties are taken."
Buffalo Sabres forward Patrick Kaleta received a 10-game suspension for an illegal check to the head Oct. 15, one that was subsequently upheld by Commissioner Bettman upon appeal.
Sabres defenceman John Scott received a seven-game suspension for an illegal check to the head Oct. 31. Thornton could be suspended for six or more games after his hearing Friday. Four players, including Neal, have received a five-game suspension this season.
Those long-term suspensions are sending a message to the players, Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said. Chiarelli also said he thinks the suspensions being handed out, and the corresponding educational videos created by the Department of Player Safety to explain the decisions, are making an impact.
"Just in Shawn Thornton's case, he will be suspended, that is meaningful compensation to him, and he's contrite," Chiarelli said. "I know he's probably going to think a lot about how he handles stuff. Brad Marchand, in our case, he had been down the path a couple of times and he's had to change his game a bit. He's struggled a bit this year, and I think that's part of it, changing it that way.
"We saw some videos in [the meeting Tuesday] as to guys that pulled up on hits and still managed to knock the guy off the puck. So that's harder to see. You have to look at a game closely to see that. But I've seen it. I watch our guy, [defenceman Zdeno] Chara, hit guys, and he's a very good hitter and he keeps his elbows in. I know he's changed it a little bit. People are reacting, and I think at the end of the day it's a good thing."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer