Michael Russo's Sunday Insider: Disciplinarian Shanahan defends decisions

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2011 - 6:54 PM

Conspiracy talk notwithstanding, NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan insists, laughing, he's no Wild hater.


Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon was helped off the ice Monday, but he got no relief from the NHL office.

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt, Associated Press - AP

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The second it became apparent that Colorado's Cody McLeod would escape punishment for checking the Wild's Jared Spurgeon from behind on Monday, I got pelted with e-mails and tweets.

"Brendan Shanahan's a joke." "A Wild player's got to lose a limb for the league to notice." "Why does Shanahan hate Minnesota?"

Wednesday morning, I e-mailed NHL headquarters and basically demanded an explanation for how it's possible that for the fourth time since Nov. 30, a Wild opponent has skated away spank-free for a questionable incident toward a Wild player.

Obviously Shanahan, the longtime power forward who has taken over NHL discipline from oft-criticized Colin Campbell, loathes Minnesota, right? He annoyed by our funny accents? Chow down some bad chicken wild rice soup last time he was here?

I landed in Nashville and had an e-mail to call Shanahan.

"Believe it or not, there's not some conspiracy in New York or within me against the state of Minnesota or Minnesota Wild," Shanahan said. "Earlier this month, I was at the same hotel as the Wild in San Jose and I sat around and had a few beers and told some stories and had some laughs with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley."

Shanahan began to laugh.

"I remember when I played for the Rangers. We were playing the Devils. It was probably my 20th year of hockey and for years, you always heard the Devils get all the calls because the refs are so intimidated by [General Manager Lou Lamoriello]."

Shanahan said he yelled at referee Don VanMassenhoven that he shouldn't give any breaks to New Jersey "just because it's Lou and the Devils." The next season, Shanahan played for the Devils, and his new teammates claimed the Rangers got all the breaks. After a penalty in one game, Shanahan jokingly told, coincidentally, the same ref not to favor the Rangers.

"Everyone loves conspiracy theories," Shanahan said. "I deal with passionate GMs and players every day. I can't pay much attention to fanatics. I just do the job."

On Nov. 30, Edmonton's Ryan Whitney injured Cal Clutterbuck with a knee. On Dec. 13, Pierre-Marc Bouchard broke his nose after being boarded by Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian. On Dec. 22, Marek Zidlicky was checked from behind by Edmonton's Lennart Petrell. Then, Monday, Spurgeon was injured.

Shanahan went through each incident with me and explained his reasoning for not rendering discipline (see www.startribune.com/russo). He also called Wild GM Chuck Fletcher on Tuesday.

Shanahan painted me a picture of how supplemental discipline works. On a daily basis, he'll e-mail 14 people clips of questionable hits with the subject, "Thoughts?" That group includes such people as Rob Blake, Kris King, Stephane Quintal, Kay Whitmore and Mike Murphy.

"In a job that is very subjective, I think our group is the best at it," Shanahan said. "We have a mental catalog of hundreds and hundreds of hits and we see patterns that to us prove intent and lack of intent.

"It's an important job. I could really care less about pats on the back. What I care about is over time trying to develop something that makes it safer for players to play while at the same time making sure players are still able to body check."

On any decision to suspend or not suspend, somebody (or many somebodys) will be upset. But transparency is the key to this thankless job.

"Sometimes people want to say we're not clear or confusing, but they never pick up the phone to ask us," Shanahan said. "Whether you agree or disagree, in the end, we expose all of our work."

I talked to Shanahan for 20 minutes. I still don't like the ruling -- McLeod could have ridden Spurgeon into the boards rather than drive a vulnerable player with a check across the numbers.

But I also know Shanahan doesn't hate Minnesota.

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