BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Monday, on the first day of the General Mangers Meeting at Boca Raton Beach Club, Brendan Shanahan spent a good portion of the morning session ensuring that the general managers were on board with the direction of the Department of Player Safety.
Shanahan, Vice President for Player Safety and Hockey Operations, used his time to update the League's 30 general managers about the goals for the Department of Player Safety, which is in its first year of existence.
He presented the department's reasoning for how and why it metes out supplemental discipline through a video presentation that showed various penalty infractions and why supplemental discipline was necessary in certain situations. He also made sure to highlight videos that displayed how players have adapted to the enacted safety measures.
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"I wanted to get out in front of them a month before the (Stanley Cup) Playoffs and ask them if their interpretation matched mine and if they were satisfied with that, and will they be going forward in the playoffs regardless of that 11:30 at night phone call I get when maybe the perspective has changed in the middle of May?" Shanahan said. "They did agree. They thought this was the direction they wanted us to keep going."
Several managers voiced their support of Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety at the conclusion of Monday's session.
"I think that the League continues to do a good job in that area (of player safety and supplemental discipline)," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said. "Players know that if they cross the line and do something wrong, they're going to be punished or penalized in a way that is going to cost them and their team. Brendan explained a lot of the suspensions that he's given out. Overall, I don't think there are any real complaints in that area."
Toronto GM Brian Burke, who was the League's chief disciplinarian two decades ago, praised Shanahan for doing a great job with "the hardest job in hockey."
That was a sentiment readily reinforced by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford.
"We didn't go around the room and say who thinks Brendan is doing a good job because I'm sure there would be a few people that say he is not because he suspended their players," Rutherford said. "I think that Brendan has done an outstanding job."
Shanahan's presentation to the managers provided insight into the scope of penalties for kneeing, clipping, tripping, slew footing and goalie interference.
Each penalty was illustrated by a spectrum of highlights that showed an infraction that merited a minor penalty all the way to infractions that resulted in fines and suspensions, if applicable.
For instance, if a general manager wanted to know why Zach Bogosian only got a two-minute minor for kneeing Tomas Kopecky on Oct. 31 but Kevin Porter got a major penalty and a four-game suspension for kneeing David Booth on Dec. 6, the explanation was apparent in the video and Shanahan's remarks.
If managers were curious why Brad Marchand was suspended for five games for clipping Sami Salo on Jan. 7, but Nick Foligno got off with a minor penalty for clipping and a warning from Shanahan for doing nearly the same to Dion Phaneuf 10 days later, Shanahan had the answer.
"For all of these penalties, there are varying degrees," Shanahan said.
Shanahan offered hard numbers to back up the department's stance that the players are adapting to make the game safer.
"We hear from the press sometimes that now that players are afraid of hitting guys in the head, kneeing is going way up," Shanahan said. "Well the reality is at this point in the season we've had 24 minor penalties for kneeing, three major penalties, one suspension and one fine. To give it context, go back to last year, there were 36 minor penalties for kneeing, one major penalty and one fine. So, there is no this rash of kneeing."
He added that there have so far been six minors for clipping this season, the same as there was last season. There have been more than 1,100 penalties for tripping this season; there were a little more than 1,100 last season as well.
Shanahan thought that he would find that goalie interference penalties were way up because of the attention the high-profile incidents have received, but, in fact, there have been 230 this season after 247 in 2010-11.
"We probably will pass (the number of penalties), but I thought we'd be way above where we were last year," Shanahan said. "We're not. It's pretty much the same."
"Players know that if they cross the line and do something wrong, they're going to be punished or penalized in a way that is going to cost them and their team. Brendan explained a lot of the suspensions that he's given out. Overall, I don't think there are any real complaints in that area." -- Flyers' GM Paul Holmgren
Shanahan also made it known that hitting in the game has not gone down since the modifications were made to Rule 48 (illegal checks to the head) and Rule 41 (boarding) for the start of this season.
There is an average of 45 hits per game this season, exactly the same as last season. Hitting was down slightly at the start of the season, but has gone back as the playoff races have intensified since January. Hitting is up 40 percent since the 2003-04 season.
The difference, Shanahan said, is now the majority of players are making better decisions in regards to how they deliver hits. He showed the managers various videos of players either pulling up before hitting a guy in the back or changing their angle to instead deliver a legal hit.
He said he takes great offense when people say the players in the NHL don't respect one another.
"Obviously we know you can have two, three or four weeks of highlights that we're seeing in our room every night and then one bad hit, and the perception of hockey and hockey players is that they'll never change and they're not respecting one another," Shanahan said. "We just don't see that as accurate. I understand why it's said and I understand there is a lot of work to be done. This is the beginning. We're not at the end of this. But, I do see on a nightly basis many occasions (where) big open-ice hits are passed up, these hits along the wall that are passed up. Years ago, if you came back to the bench you might get benched. That's not the case anymore."
In relation to all of this, concussions in the NHL have stabilized after a large increase from 2009-11.
"We have the best players in the world; we have the most adaptable players in the world," Shanahan said. "When they know and recognize this is a movement that is not going away they do make the appropriate changes. We're still going to have penalties and mistakes, but we see in our room on many occasions players making better decisions and to a certain degree they don't always get the credit for it."