Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unshakable Shanahan perfect man for the job

Dispenses discipline with cool conviction

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NEWARK, N.J. -- Brendan Shanahan has a lot of traits that make him a strong candidate for the job he holds, but it is his particular blend of intelligence and detached arrogance that makes him the ideal choice.

Shanahan, in his role of league disciplinarian, can never be right and never be wrong in his decisions. Everyone has a different opinion and he faces criticism and praise at every turn. If he were to listen carefully and try to absorb the running commentary on his fitness for the position, he'd be in hospital right now with some sort of syndrome.

Decisions

Shanahan, lucky for him, cares little what others think of his decisions. He has the support of commissioner Gary Bettman and really, that's all that matters. Who cares about a puffed-up Glen Sather, inconsolable fan, raging player agent or foaming reporter?

"My skin has thickened." Shanahan told the Free Press between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup final. "I'm always open for constructive criticism. You can't shut yourself off from the world and not learn if you want to improve. But at the same time I just remind myself about our mandate, and that's to make players have safer and longer careers."

For a future Hall of Famer like Shanahan, with three Cups on his resume and 1,354 points over 1,524 games, there was no shortage of job opportunities when he retired, but he chose what is perhaps the most difficult in hockey management.

"It's not a job where you say, 'Boy this is fun.' I like the challenge of trying to do something that is important for the game of hockey," said Shanahan.

Bettman appointed him and has supported him at every turn. A Shanahan mistake is a Bettman mistake and the commissioner ranks ahead of his employee in terms of self-assuredness.

Complaint

Don't get me wrong, I've got no complaint with these men and their belief that they know better than the rest of us. It doesn't make them right all the time, but it does make them right for the jobs they hold.

"In the scope of time and the way some of the rules have changed, and player behavior and player recognition when it comes to head injuries, I think players have made a lot of strides," said Shanahan.

"It's hard (for fans) to notice the things we notice, like when a player lets up on a guy or when a player recognizes in a split-second that another player is in a defenceless position. Nobody reports on the safe landings at the airport. There have been a lot of positive strides but there are still incidents. To me it's a matter of not wavering and making the difficult call sometimes."

Shanahan says the law and order portfolio of his appointment is just a small slice of what he does.

"People look at the suspensions and think that's all we do, but it's a very small percentage of what we do.

"We meet with players, we meet with all the teams, have conversations with players and GMs," said Shanahan.

The league also makes teaching videos from game action, to demonstrate to players and coaches what is deemed acceptable and what is not. And if a player starts trending toward dangerous play, he is warned that he is skating on this ice.

"I believe we made 81 warning calls to players. Maybe in the past it was just a mental note that a player was creeping toward the more dangerous side. Now when we seem those things starting to develop we'll call and head him off at the pass."

As one coach famously replied to a question about what the fans wanted: "The minute I start listening to the fans is the minute I should go and sit in the stands with them."

Same goes for Shanahan. He should know better than the rest of us and you can rest assured he's firm in the knowledge that he does.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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