Things I don't understand

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Since taking over from Colin Campbell (left) as NHL discipline czar, Brendan Shanahan has caught more than a few players, and one anonymous executive, by surprise with his tough rulings. (Mike Blake/Reuters)


By Stu Hackel

Here are some things I don't understand:

1) Why NHL players continue to commit suspendable acts in preseason while knowing that Brendan Shanahan is executing the toughest standard of discipline the NHL has ever seen. The suspension of Jody Shelley for 10 games should have been enough to send the message. But thus far, including the Flyers Tom Sesito's punishment on Wednesday, Shanahan has had to suspended seven players for a total of 46 games -- 24 of them in the regular season -- and they've been fined $642,897, which is salary lost. Think that's enough warning?

2) Why an unnamed NHL executive told Damien Cox of The Toronto Star that Shanny may be exceeding his authority. “We voted for stiffer suspensions, and we meant it,” said this veteran executive. “But not doubling and tripling. If (Shanahan) gets too far in front, he won’t last long in the job.”

Now, what is this? Is this really a warning from the GMs as a group, a very unsubtle suggestion that Shanahan better back off this new standard, which is his and his alone? Or is it one of hockey's less-than-forward-thinkers who, for some nefarious reason, prefers that players injure each other and threaten careers and lives with acts that potentially cause concussions? It can't be because anyone really believes the old rationale against tough standards -- that harsh penalties discourage physical play -- because the game is as physical as it has ever been, as these two hits from last night's Maple Leafs-Senators game show:

If the GMs force Shanahan to ease up on the path he's chosen and adopt a wrist slap-plus mentality -- which has so often happened in the NHL with a slackening of standards after an initial crackdown -- don't expect him to be effective. After all, big bans and fines to the first two perpetrators didn't deter the next five from their illegal plays. Any easing of discipline can only result in more dangerous play going unpunished, which will lead to even more dangerous play.

But if this quote is from a disgruntled rogue GM, it would be nice to hear some support from the others, and from the commissioner, praising the new direction of the league's Hockey Operations Department.

3) Why Martin Brodeur believes these suspensions are giving the NHL a black eye. The Devils goalie told Mark Everson of The New York Post that ""Not everybody is following preseason, and when it's over, the only thing people are going to hear about is, 'twelve suspensions for 37 games or whatever it turns out,' " Brodeur told The Post on Tuesday. "That's not good for the game. No other sport does anything like that to itself."

Not good for the game? Oh, and these plays are good for the game?

Wonder how Brodeur would feel if some opponent decided to "welcome" Adam Larsson to the NHL with a fly-by concussing fist to the head or by ramming him into the boards from behind, thus removing the prized Devils rookie from the lineup. Would suspending that guy be a black eye for the NHL?

The black eye here is the dangerous play, not the punishment.

4) How any hockey fan, no matter what they think of the Maple Leafs, could read Stephen Marche's excellent essay "Toronto: The Worst Sports City in the World" in the online magazine Grantland and not be embarrassed for the state of the franchise in the supposed "Centre of the Hockey Universe."

5) Why Wayne Simmonds, who displayed a good measure of dignity after being on the receiving end of a repugnant racist gesture from a fan in London, Ontario, (saying "When you're a black man playing in a predominantly white man's sport, you've got to come to expect things like that. Over the past 23 years of my life, I've come to expect some things like that. But I'm older and more mature now, I kind of just left things roll off [my back]. I try not to think about stuff like that.") can then turn around and make a repugnant homophobic remark to Sean Avery. Oh, he later denied it. Right.

6) Why the NHL Network believed that hiring Barry Melrose was a good idea. Yeah, he's still got a great smile and a great laugh. He is, after all, a TV star. But when it comes to communicating the complexities of the contemporary game, Melrose revealed all anyone needs to know about him during his aborted stint as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

When Melrose was hired in June 2008 -- just one of many wrongheaded moves by the ill-fated Oren Koules-Len Barrie ownership tandem -- I wrote, "The flash of gleaming teeth and well-styled hair won’t camouflage the fact that Melrose hasn’t coached in the NHL since 1995 and spent the last 12 seasons behind a microphone (and more entertaining than insightful, at that) and not behind a bench. He was away for a good reason — because the game passed him by long ago, perhaps while he was still coaching (the Kings in the early '90s). And it has kept advancing at a rapid pace while he’s been futzing with his pancake makeup. Seen this way, Barry Melrose is an analog coach in a digital world."

Well, after 16 chaotic games, of which Tampa Bay won but five, Barry was mercifully gone. One Lightning player characterized the Melrose approach to that of shinny hockey with a few fights thrown in, one bereft of any discernible system or plan. He returned to ESPN, of course, where he resumed his well-coiffed, periodic commentaries.

Now, we'll get to see even more of his special insight (not just on ESPN and NHLN, but on, too) and learn just how much he's absorbed about the newer, faster, even more sophisticated game during the last three years.

If the rationale for hiring this TV star is that he's one of the faces of the game in the U.S., it says more about who is considered as "a face of the game" in the U.S. and why than it does about anyone's ability to decipher what's actually happening on the ice and why.