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Parros to head Department of Player Safety, focus on slashing

Former NHL forward also wants longer suspensions for nonhockey infractions

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NEW YORK -- George Parros wants longer suspensions for nonhockey infractions and will focus more on slashing as head of the NHL Department of Player Safety. Otherwise, he wants to operate much the same way his predecessors Stephane Quintal and Brendan Shanahan did.

"We used to be worried about headhunting and major things like that," Parros said. "Now we're worried about slashing and some more minor infractions, you might say. So the game's in a good place. There doesn't need to be a huge shake-up, a huge change in philosophy." 

The NHL announced Thursday that Parros had been named senior vice president of player safety and will succeed Quintal, who is stepping down to pursue other opportunities in the game but will remain with the department to assist in the transition.

Parros would like to break with precedents on nonhockey infractions, like a retaliatory slash to the face. The GMs would have to endorse any increase in suspension severity.

"I've always thought that they could have been a bit harsher on certain plays that I felt where clearly someone intended to do something that was away from the play, had nothing to do with the game and no benefit other than to disable or hurt a person," Parros said. "Just trying to go a little bit harder on those, because I felt it's been soft in some instances."

Slashing will be a point of emphasis for the referees this season. It is common, and not every slash will result in supplemental discipline. But Player Safety will address serious incidents and look for patterns with individual players and within the League.

"If they seem to be intentful or directed at the fingers and hands with greater force, we're going to be looking to do something -- fines, suspensions, whatever it might be," Parros said. "We're going to try to change player behavior."

That has been the goal since the NHL formed the Department of Player Safety in 2011: to change player behavior, making the game safer while keeping it physical. The department has emphasized consistency, transparency and education by using video to explain each suspension and the standards, and speaking to players directly.

Parros, 37, retired in 2014 after playing 474 games over nine seasons as a forward in the NHL. He said he bothered Quintal for a job in Player Safety for two years before becoming a director in the department last season. He was known as an enforcer, with 1,092 penalty minutes compared to 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists). But he went to Princeton and had a keen mind, and unlike Shanahan and Quintal, each of whom was suspended as an NHL player, he had a clean record in terms of supplemental discipline. He felt that made him uniquely qualified.

"I played the game as physically as anybody, and I never once was fined or suspended," Parros said. "I know where that line is. I know how to protect my guys or intimidate, but not injure and hurt. And that's what we're looking for.

"Our mission statement is to keep physicality in the game. I'm not trying to get anybody to stop body-checking. Or even if you want to be a pest out there or send a message, there's ways you can do that. But we don't like guys being put in vulnerable positions and hurting each other. So when we see that, that's what this department is all about, is trying to curb that."

Parros has a job to fill in the department now that Chris Pronger has become an adviser for the Florida Panthers. Considering his background and Quintal's as a defenseman, he would like to hire someone who was known as skilled, offensive player in the NHL.

"Perception's important, and viewpoints are important," Parros said.

Parros also would like to extend the department's educational reach to USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. He sees players turning their backs near the boards to protect the puck, even though they see opponents coming.

"If you put yourself in a vulnerable position at the last minute, there's not much we can do," Parros said. "We've got to take that into account. Guy's bearing down on you, has you lined up for a legal hit, and all of a sudden you change your position last second, that's going to be tough. So we've got to make sure guys understand this."

Some would say Parros now has the worst job in hockey. He will be a target of criticism from the fans and media. He will catch grief from general managers. Quintal and Shanahan each lasted three years. But he got a taste of the intensity last season, and he likes it. He's moving from Las Vegas to New York for the job. As Quintal and Shanahan did, he sees a chance to make a difference.

"It's a rare job in the sport that you can affect what's going on," Parros said. "I see the value and importance of it. We do something or we start hammering on certain initiatives, and the game changes, and I think that's interesting."

He's an enforcer in another way.

"People talk about fighting not being around much anymore," Parros said. "Well, if there's going to be less of that, then we can protect guys and affect how the game is played."

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