New sheriff earns star for swift, bold action
The new NHL season does not begin until a week from Thursday, but league vice president Brendan Shanahan already has closed one season before it started. With a pair of quick decisions in his new role as chief disciplinarian, Shanahan closed down hunting season with his swift suspensions of Calgary’s Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and Philadelphia’s Jody Shelley.
Let’s start here with Shelley, who has spent the last decade trying to turn opposition forwards and defensemen into his own brand of pate. Up until his dastardly hit Wednesday night on Toronto’s Darryl Boyce (3 inches shorter, 30 pounds lighter), the 35-year-old Shelley had a good thing going, making a living out of scaring the life out of guys.
But that kind of mayhem appears over now under the watch of Sheriff Shanny, who made a quick supplemental review of Shelley cranking Boyce from behind and smashing him face-first into the glass. This space the last couple of years has included such hits in the escalating seek-and-destroy attitude that has permeated the game, especially in the New NHL (read: post-lockout).
When Colin Campbell had the job that Shanahan now fills, those hits were deemed just part of the game, at least until Matt Cooke attempted to decapitate Boston’s Marc Savard. Even then, Campbell let Cooke skate, eventually forcing the Board of Governors to change the rulebook as a means of protecting players from such malicious acts.
Campbell had the power to penalize such hits with the old rulebook, but as pointed out here time and again, he opted to hide behind what he said was an absence of language. As players were strapped to stretchers and lugged out of rinks, Campbell shrugged his shoulders and riffled his rulebook. Disgraceful.
In short order, and no doubt with lasting impact, Shanahan suspended Shelley for the remainder of the preseason and further informed him he will have to sit out the first five games of the season. The cost to Shelley is roughly $67,000, and if he behaves himself, he can earn the rest of his $1.2 million over the remaining 77 games.
Of course, now that he can’t commit his brazen, cowardly acts, it remains to be seen just what value, if any, he is to the Flyers or anyone else.
Letourneau-Leblond, not nearly the double-runnered destroyer that Shelley is (was?), put the hammer down on Vancouver’s Matt Clackson (about 2 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his aggressor). By Shanahan’s eye, that smack from behind wasn’t as egregious as Shelley’s, but it was enough for him to pitch Letourneau-Leblond out of the preseason and the first game of the regular season.
Let me add a key word to all this: Bravo!
Shanahan was no wallflower during his playing days, which made his decisions all the more impressive. He understood and appreciated a tough game, but there’s a vast difference between aggressive, physical play and the wanton victimization of an opponent.
Shanahan gets it. The game will be better for it, even if I’ve already heard some decent, well-intentioned hockey people express concern that he may have set the bar too high, in particular with the Shelley decision.
“OK, fine,’’ one veteran scout told me, “but where does he go from here? If that’s his baseline, what happens to the next guy . . . and the next . . . and the next . . . ?’’
What should happen next, of course, is that teams stop employing players who mistake thuggery for toughness. It’s really not about the bar being too high now; it was too low for decades.
And, again, until the recent acute need to address the growing number of concussions in the league, I was always one to appreciate a good dustup, or maybe two, even a dozen. But with concussions (read: brain injuries) too often a result of fighting, it’s clear now that the fights should be stopped as part of the solution in rolling back the increased violence and concussions in the game.
Ideally, for every useless thug who now must go earn an honest living out of the game, a more skilled player will take his place on the roster. Players with more skill should make for a better game.
No one, least of all Shanahan, is saying that speed, toughness, courage, and good, clean, mean play has to be eliminated. If Shelley and Letourneau-Leblond were all of that - truly devoted to finishing their checks as allowed and even encouraged by the rulebook - then no one in league HQ, Row No. 1 of the loge, or the press box would have a complaint.
For once, those who govern the game are finally showing the kind of courage they’ve long said they admire in their players. Truth be told, I suspect they’ve always been in favor of courage. Sadly, they’ve also been too tolerant of the cowards, cheap-shot artists, and thugs.
If they allow Shanahan to stay on the job - and you can bet he’s going to get some pushback from the Lords of the Boards - then he should be able to clean up in a matter of weeks or months the rubbish that has gone on for decades.
None of that, of course, will offer Savard much solace, clear the cobwebs of his addled brain. It won’t even take Cooke off the job.
But his time is coming, without question. It’s no longer just the potential victims who will have to keep looking over their shoulders, but the perpetrators, too. Sweet payback, a very long time coming.
As Simmonds, who is black, barreled toward the net, someone in the stands tossed a banana peel fairly close to his skating lane. Yep, Sept. 22, 2011, proof that stupid, racist statements still can come from just about anywhere, at anytime, when neither the victim nor innocent bystanders expect it.
Condemnation was swift and came from everywhere, as well it should have, and the 23-year-old Simmonds, a Toronto kid, sounded impressively stoic in his statement released the next day by the Flyers.
“I am above this sort of stuff,’’ said the one-time Los Angeles draft pick (No. 61, 2007).
There is nothing to like about any of it, save perhaps that Simmonds didn’t flinch, or slip, over the peel. He even finished off the play by scoring on Pearce, which drew praise from the opposing coach, Mike Babcock.
“Stupid and ignorant,’’ was how NHL commissioner Gary Bettman categorized the incident, reminding everyone not to judge the many good people of London, Ontario, by the act of one slob in the stands.
Is there a lesson here beyond the obvious, the disdain we should all have for such vulgarities? A lingering thought here is that someone, or maybe even a few people, had to see who tossed the banana peel. We live in a time when virtually everyone carries cellphones that include cameras. No one saw it? No one took a picture? No one in the house that night was able to come forward with an image of the idiot, or his name?
Nowhere on a printed ticket to any sporting event does it ask the seat-holder to play Barney Fife. I get that. But part of maintaining a decent environment is the need to speak up when someone in the stands is too drunk or too ignorant to be tolerated.
To remain silent in such instances is to play enabler. Speaking up won’t guarantee that it will stop. Remaining silent, though, guarantees that it will continue.
Fedoruk rights himself Veteran tough guy Todd Fedoruk, now 17 months sober, remains on a tryout deal with the Canucks, who are hoping to add some grit after getting bounced by Boston in the Cup Finals. Drafted in 1997, Fedoruk now says he became an alcoholic in his first three years of pro hockey, and noted to Vancouver Sun columnist Iain MacIntyre last week that Derek Boogaard’s tragic ending this summer “very easily could have been me.’’ Fedoruk, by the way, still has titanium plates in his face, required to patch him up after Boogaard dealt him a devastating beatdown during the 2006-07 season. Now with three kids, ages 7, 5, and 5 months, the 32-year-old Fedoruk is hoping for another big-league paycheck and continued sobriety. “When you do the right thing, you feel the right feelings,’’ he told MacIntyre. “That’s what I try to do now - do the next right thing.’’
A job for Joe? Ex-Bruin top pick (No. 16, 2008) Joe Colborne remains in the hunt for big-league work with Toronto. “Too early to say,’’ reports Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, when asked if the 6-foot-5-inch center had secured a roster spot. “Looks really good, but a spot may rest on whether [Matthew] Lombardi can start the year or not.’’ Colborne was flipped to Toronto in February as part of the treasure to obtain Tomas Kaberle. Lombardi, whom the Leafs acquired over the summer from Nashville, still hasn’t recovered from last year’s concussion issues. He has been cleared for noncontact workouts with the Leafs and possibly will be OK’d for contact within the next few days. Others looking for full-time work up front: Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin.
Sticky situation New Bruin Joe Corvo, when apprised that the NHL of years ago forced players to head directly to the bench if they broke a stick, was less than supportive of the idea here to reinstitute the long-forgotten rule. “So, if I’ve got a guy along the boards and my stick breaks, he gets to take off on a breakaway?’’ mused Boston’s new resident point blaster. “Forget it. I think I’d rather tackle the guy and take the penalty.’’ Actually, that would be two penalties: two minutes for interference/holding and two minutes for failing to leave the ice. Sounds better and better, doesn’t it?
Big piece is missing Still no new deal in Los Angeles for franchise blue liner Drew Doughty. He and Tampa’s Steven Stamkos entered the offseason as the game’s two prime restricted free agents, Stamkos finally coming to terms on a five-year pact worth $37.5 million. Weeks ago, rumor had it that Doughty, 21, nixed a nine-year extension worth $61.2 million. LA’s top four defensemen without Doughty: Jack Johnson, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi (BC, 2001), and Matt Greene. Given the additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne up front, the Kings are ready to make a big push, but it will be harder without Doughty providing the impetus from the back end.
Obstructed view In Friday night’s exhibition game at the Garden, only three of Boston’s 18 skaters - Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Lane MacDermid - did not wear visors. Chara wears one when governed by the rules of international play, but opts to go without the windshield in the NHL, which remains laissez faire when it comes to eye protection. “The line where the bottom of the visor ends can block your vision,’’ explained Big Z. “I’ve worn it in Olympics and in World Championships, but I’m not totally comfortable with it.’’ Given the speed of the game and the force behind some shots - and the risk of them being deflected - it remains hard to believe that the NHL and the Players Association have yet to make visors mandatory.
Loose pucks If Jaroslav Spacek is in uniform tonight for the Canadiens when they face Boston in Halifax, the Bruins will see a trimmer, fitter version of the 37-year-old Czech defenseman. The oldest guy sporting the CH crest won’t say what he’s lost, but he looked doughy last year and he’s about to enter the final year of his three-year, $11.5 million deal . . . Keith Carney, once a Bob Beers teammate at Maine, hooked on recently as a player development coach with the Blackhawks, following a path much like that of Bill Guerin (hired not long ago by the Penguins). Carney, 41, wrapped up his NHL career with two years in St. Paul, then called it quits after playing a dozen games in 2008-09 with Bern, Switzerland . . . Goaltender Ray Emery, who is on a tryout deal with the Blackhawks, is hoping to edge out top Czech prospect Alex Salak for the job as Corey Crawford’s backup. Emery turns 29 this week and has played only 39 NHL games the last two seasons, the price for his immature antics during his days in Ottawa. He went 13-7 with three shutouts in the 2007 playoffs, with the Senators ultimately falling to the Ducks in the Cup finals . . . Former Capitals PR man Nate Ewell, who is now in charge of College Hockey Inc.’s PR, reminds that former Capital Chris Clark, still on a tryout with the Bruins, has two career hat tricks in the NHL. One was against Tim Thomas and the other against Roberto Luongo.