NHL: Keep sending a message

Criticism of how league's new suspension czar Brendan Shanahan is handing out suspensions or headshots needs to be curbed.

The new season of the National Hockey League has barely begun, and the troubles with our national game persist.

Clips of Sidney Crosby skating in practice with the Pittsburgh Penguins but not getting involved in physical contact as of yet, combined with the number of suspension handed out already for headshots, continue to be troubling signs.

Brendan Shanahan, a likely NHL hall of famer who was no shrinking violet on the ice when he played, has been given the task by the NHL of policing illegal hits.

He has been handing out suspensions left and right since the exhibition games started, trying to get the attention of the players. But now he is dealing with the inevitable pushback.

A group of NHL general managers apparently approached league commissioner Gary Bettman to complain about the harshness of Shanahan’s rulings. Other players are whispering that Shanahan is what they call a lackey to the owners, pointing out he was one of the players who broke ranks with the NHL players’ union during the last strike. Even Don Cherry, who loves Shanahan, was tearing a strip of him on his CBC Hockey Night in Canada bully pulpit last week. The reality is Shanahan needs to stick to his guns and the players will have to adjust.

No rule is perfect but watching Crosby, the best player in the NHL today, skate in practice and not in games is a reminder that something has to be done.

Two genuine solutions to the head shot issue—widening the NHL rinks to international standards and modifying the shoulder and elbow pad equipment—are not being addressed.

So all Shanahan can do is deal with enforcing the rules as they are written, which offer ample ammunition to get his message across.