There's a new sheriff in town. But will anyone notice the difference?
In a decision that surprised no one, Stephane Quintal was officially confirmed on Monday afternoon as head of the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Until today, Brendan Shanahan's successor was best known as the player that the Bruins drafted in 1987 one pick ahead of some kid named Sakic. Quintal has actually been part of the league's disciplinary process since the NHL established the safety department in 2011, and has worn Shanny's shoes on an interim basis since the Hall of Famer left in April to become the president of the Maple Leafs.
A press release announcing the move noted that Quintal's selection followed "an extensive evaluation process that included interviews with many qualified candidates." Ultimately, the NHL decided that "the goals and objectives of the Department of Player Safety would be served best under Quintal's continued leadership."
In other words, don't expect anything to change at DoPS.
Anyone expecting something different was doomed to be disappointed. That includes yours truly. I've emptied more than a few barrels of digital ink ripping Shanahan through the years for decisions that I thought did too little to punish a perpetrator or that failed to set a precedent that would give pause in the future to potential offenders. There were too many slaps on the wrist, too few statements that certain practices would no longer be tolerated. The entire office, though sound in concept, smacked of a missed opportunity.
But while Shanahan and his team often frustrated the masses with their decisions, they did one thing very well: They kept their bosses happy. The wrist slaps got the league press for addressing reckless acts while rarely stepping too hard on the toes of owners who didn't want to see their players in street clothes. And that's exactly what was expected of Shanahan. If not, the league would have made a change at DoPS long before Shanny got around to cherry-picking his own opportunity to exit.
So what to expect from Quintal? Well, we've already enjoyed a preview of his work during last season's playoffs. His resume includes a trio of those two-game specials favored by Shanny, along with an automatic 10-gamer given to Dan Carcillo that was later reduced on appeal to six games by Gary Bettman, and a seven-game hit on serial offender Matt Cooke. It 's a body of work that, in many ways, mirrors what you would have expected from his predecessor.
Maybe real change was too much to hope for. Still, Quintal deserves a full season at the helm to prove that he's his own man. After all, he may have the same interest as many fans in executing a disciplinary process that pushes the CBA-mandated system to its limits instead of always settling for minimum sentencing. At a time when the league is facing increased scrutiny and a wave of concussion-related lawsuits, a more aggressive posture would make a bold statement about the league's intention to protect its players.
Or he may want to maintain the status quo. He sure wouldn't be the first person to avoid rocking the boat in order to keep his bosses happy.