Traditionally, innovation and the NHL have gone together as well as a fish and a bicycle. Had the NHL been a telephone, it would have been rotary. But light is making its way into the league's New York City sepulchre. Whether it's the Winter Classic or Brendan Shanahan getting ready for his close-up, the NHL is in danger of losing its reputation as the crusty neighbour who won't let you get your football out of his backyard.
Shanahan's simple public videos explaining the NHL's discipline calls are a perfect example of the league actually leading the way for team sports. (We cannot recall any team sport where the discipline calls have been distributed as a video, let alone explained so succinctly.) From Shanahan's first appearance this week on NHL.com, looking like some character from Desperate Housewives in a raffish, open-necked shirt, the genius is in the simplicity.
Shanahan is direct, logical and pitiless as he rolls the video to underpin his findings. The ease with which he dispenses his calls lays waste to the NHL officials and their media sycophants who've tried to tell us for years what a torturous process it was to give a habitual offender 10 games for trying to deliberately injure someone. Colin Campbell, you are now free to move about the nation.
Here's a sample of Shanahan's jurisprudence as he sends Calgary's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond to the sin bin for pasting Vancouver's Matt Clackson: "Letourneau-Leblond took a direct route toward Clackson, hit him squarely from behind into the boards and drove through the check high and hard. Clackson's back was turned toward Letourneau-Leblond well before the contact, requiring that Letourneau-Leblond avoid or minimize the check completely. He did neither.
"Letourneau-Leblond is considered a repeat offender under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement because he was suspended for one game on Oct. 9, 2010. Under the terms of the CBA, Letourneau-Leblond has to forfeit his salary based on the number of games in the season instead of the number of days in the season " Ouch.
Now, was that really so hard? Granted, Shanahan had some batting-practice fastballs to start with as recidivist types such as Letourneau-Leblond, Jody Shelley and James Wisniewski offered up acts of idiocy that almost anyone could punish. Will Shanahan be so bold when Alex Ovechkin performs his annual act of lunacy? No doubt there will also be jealous NHL types who feel Shanahan is pumping his own tires by appearing in the videos.
But the fan-friendly bits are already a success with both consumers and many players. They're state of the art for other leagues to emulate. We at Usual Suspects can't get enough of the summary justice as Shanahan goes old-school Judge Mills Lane on NHL rockheads. Will the message get through to them? Hard to say, but until it does, we'll simply quote the immortal George Michael, "Let's go the video …"
NOT READY FOR PRIMETIME
Sources tell us that the video idea was Shanahan's, but so far the Vince Shlomi of NHL discipline is too immersed in crushing miscreants to meet the press. We're told by the league that when he does emerge, we'll be on the list for interviews with Boy Spielberg. Just one request till then, Brendan: Don't lose the shirt.
Good news from CBC. More jobs in a recession! The addition of the Winnipeg Jets (and the defection of several staffers) has necessitated the addition of more bodies to the Hockey Night in Canada roster. Rick Ball, play-by-play voice for the Vancouver Canucks and B.C. Lions, has been added for those nights when HNIC requires an extra crew. Dallas analyst Daryl (Razor) Reaugh comes aboard as well to fill out the wiseacre quotient in the booth (humour on HNIC?).
With Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison leaving the I Desk (what was that all about?), HNIC is adding David Amber, who has improved immeasurably since his stint in the United States; Andi Petrillo, formerly of Leafs TV; and hockey broadcasting's most improbable survivor, Gord Stellick. Stellick will replace Marek on HNIC Radio, and Amber gets to ask the sweaty players what they have to do in the third period to escape the 5-0 hole they're in.
The announcements were made by new HNIC power player Julie Bristow, who we're told is the executive director of studio and unscripted programming for CBC Television. Unscripted programming? Bet some committee stayed up way late conjuring that handle.