Speaking with Shanahan: Part II

NHL “sheriff” discusses head shots, his playing days

18.12.2011
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Right to left: NHL Vice President Brendan Shanahan was honoured at the IIHF's Triple Gold Club ceremony in Vancouver 2010 and received a jersey from his boss, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, IIHF President René Fasel and Russian goalie legend Vladislav Tretyak. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

NEW YORK – In Part 2 of IIHF.com’s exclusive chat with NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan, we discuss the issue of concussions, plus Shanahan’s numerous international-flavoured successes with the Detroit Red Wings and in IIHF competition.

During your time with the Department of Player Safety, the NHL has moved toward a stricter standard on hits to the head. When you see stars like Sidney Crosby or Marc Savard sidelined long-term with concussions, do you feel that enough is being done with regard to head hits?

I think the Marc Savard incident was the last sort of straw for a hit that used to be considered legal, where the general managers finally said: “We have to create a rule that eliminates these types of hits from the game.” The Crosby collision with David Steckel was deemed to be accidental. I always draw from my own experience. One of my last years, I collided with Mike Knuble. He and I are friends and former teammates from Detroit. On the collision, I was knocked out cold and had a concussion. He broke his jaw and his cheekbone. So I don’t know if, on that head contact, if I came to and got five games for breaking his jaw and he got 10 games for knocking me out, whether he and I would have thought that was fair.

You know, there is a time in hockey where there are going to be accidental collisions on the ice. What we feel we’ve targeted right now is eliminating head shots and intentional, reckless shots to the head where the hitter is responsible. I had a situation yesterday where a player was throwing a check and as he was throwing an otherwise legal check, the player he was about to hit tripped, and basically fell into him, which made the head the principal point of contact. We had a hearing, and in the end, we determined that the player delivering the hit, who has no history of violence in any league he’s ever played in and has never had a major – beyond a fighting major, that is – in the NHL, AHL, or OHL, was neither reckless nor intentional. It was just an unfortunate accident. I think that our rule takes the hockey IQ a little bit deeper than just a blanket rule that I think leads to potential inconsistencies.

Brendan, before moving into the NHL front office, you also had a major impact on the game as a player. You won all three of your Stanley Cups with Detroit. When you look back at those days – with players like Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, and Dominik Hasek – is it fair to say Detroit had not only some of the most talented international teams ever but also some of the smartest?

Well, that’s what Brett Hull used to say: “We’re not young, but we’re smart!” When I look back on my career, I played in some great places, but obviously, Detroit’s where I was the most. I feel like a former Wing. I just was lucky to have played at the height of my career with the best organization in the league and with the best players in the league. Players of the calibre of Yzerman, Larionov, Sergei Fyodorov, and Nicklas Lidström.

We’re just days away from the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship. You played in 1987 and were part of the infamous “Punchup in Piestany”, when Canada and the Russians were both disqualified for fighting. How far has our game evolved and improved since that whole incident?

Well, the World Junior tournament has become such a great event today. Even when you look at how that tournament was formatted at the time, it was the last game of the tournament and we were playing for the gold medal and the Russian team was playing for sixth or seventh place. You had one team that was clearly frustrated. I’m not blaming the Russians. I’m just saying that I don’t think you would see that incident occur in a gold medal game if it was two teams battling for first and second. And I don’t think if it did happen today that the referees would leave the ice or turn off the lights. They would not get their money from their TV contracts.

You were also part of two landmark victories for Canada in senior IIHF competition: the 1994 World Championship in Italy and the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

I think winning a championship is amazing in any circumstances. But winning the first world title for Canada in 33 years, and then winning the gold medal for Canada at the 2002 Olympics – in both cases it had been a long drought. In Detroit, it was similar – we won my first Stanley Cup after a long drought there. It’s always special. But when you do something that your country or city has waited multiple decades to do, and you’re part of a team that’s the first one to do it in that long, it makes it even more special.

In 2002, how much of your motivation stemmed from wanting to lay to rest the ghosts of Nagano in 1998, where Canada placed fourth after losing to the Czechs in a semi-final shootout?

From the moment I got home after Nagano, I definitely circled the 2002 Winter Olympics on my calendar and hoped I’d be part of that team. You’re always motivated to win at anything, but I think that we developed a level of respect at that Olympics in 1998, understanding just how hard it was, even with a great lineup, to win a one-and-done international tournament.

What does it mean for you to be one of 25 members of the IIHF’s Triple Gold Club?

It’s a great honour, especially when you look at the players that are in that club. There’s nothing better in team sports than winning. So to be in a group like that – every guy in that group has done his fair share of winning. It’s very special.

And finally, Dominik Hasek made an NHL comeback. So did Mario Lemieux and Gordie Howe. What would it take for Brendan Shanahan to put on an NHL jersey again?

[laughs] It would probably take an expansion of about 10 more teams in the league who just needed to give jobs away. And maybe I could sit on the bench and take warm-ups, but not play. I’m happy with the career I had. I don’t skate anymore, and I don’t play anymore. When I hung up my skates, I wanted to just enjoy and remember playing at that height. I think that’s why I don’t play anymore.

LUCAS AYKROYD


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