During the preseason, the NHL's Department of Player Safety started releasing videos detailing the reasoning behind disciplinary decisions. When they started coming out, Twitter was full of jokes from hockey media and observers about all the the face time new discipline czar Brendan Shanahan was going to get this season.
The joking is valid. After all, Shanahan and his department made it abundantly clear from the beginning that they would be an open book, willing to explain the decisions they made, and try to get fans to understand their philosophy. Since there were so many incidents during the preseason, it seemed we saw more of Shanahan's face on NHL Network than we did Kathryn Tappen's, and she works there.
However, now that we are a fourth of the way into the 2011-12 season, it's obvious that Shanahan's plan has worked on multiple levels. His face time seems to have decreased a bit, and it's because the players whose safety he is responsible for seem to have a better understanding of what's expected of them.
Shanahan and his department were busy in the preseason, issuing nine suspensions between September 22 and October 1. Since Opening Night on October 7, the Department of Player Safety has only levied eight suspensions, the most recent being to Montreal's Max Pacioretty for a headshot on Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang Saturday night.
The videos might have been the butt of jokes, but they were effective on multiple levels. For starters, Shanahan set a clear and obvious standard for his players to follow. The videos, as you can see with the Pacioretty decision from Monday, present a full explanation of the decision regarding the incident in question. Video is shown from multiple angles, and Shanahan (or whoever is issuing the suspension) states his case for suspending the player.
You might not always think he's in the right. I thought a two-game ban on Minnesota's Pierre-Marc Bouchard was patently ridiculous, given it was clearly an accident where the stick contact was actually initiated by the "victim," Columbus' Matt Calvert. But even in a situation where I disagreed with Shanahan, it's hard to say that his video didn't lay out a pretty strong case for the move he decided to make.
The videos are also working because the players are paying attention. I'll say it again. In a preseason that lasted less than two weeks, Shanahan's department was forced to do ten videos, nine of which involved decisions to suspend players for incidents.
In nearly two months of the regular season, the same group has issued eight suspensions.
Unlike previous discipline czars who shall remain nameless (hint: first name rhymes with "Bowlin'"), no one thinks the standard for supplemental discipline has changed. No one is complaining about favors given to star players, or shots allegedly taken at "little fake artists" or anything like that.
Instead, Shanahan and the NHL laid out rules and regulations, backed them up with video, and presented them to players and fans so everyone would know the standard, and would have nothing to complain about when suspensions started being handed out.
It seems so very simple, but it's a complicated and stressful process. Guys like Shanahan, Stephane Quintal, and Rob Blake are not that far removed from playing in the NHL. There are players in the league who know these guys, played with them, and played against them. Just like with their still-unnamed predecessor -- whose last name is also a famous brand of soup (no, not Lipton) -- there are personal biases that must be overcome.
Perhaps these biases will see a stiffer test at some point down the line. Maybe they are missing numerous rules violations that should lead to suspensions. But the fact that we're nearly two months into the season and still haven't heard a ton of complaints from media and fans about an arbitrary and seemingly random disciplinary system tells me that Shanahan and the people around him are doing a good job.