The decision by Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's chief disciplinarian, not to suspend Nashville's Shea Weber for smashing the head of Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg into the Plexiglas in Game 1 of the Predators-Red Wings Western Conference playoff series has become a flash point. Many believe the decision has encouraged more violence in the postseason.
But in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, Shanahan says he stands by the decision to simply fine Weber $2,500 (U.S.). The former NHL forward says he and his colleagues in the player-safety department (Rob Blake, Stéphane Quintal, Damian Echevarrieta) were so confident of their call that Shanahan didn't speak to Weber before calling to assess the fine.
"In our view of the play and talking to the Detroit people, in our range of punishments from two minutes up to a possible multiple-game suspension, we were on the [punishment]where we thought we'd end up on it," Shanahan said Tuesday.
While Shanahan considered a suspension, Zetterberg's health and Weber's history of no previous discipline played a large part in the decision. "What I said to Weber is that this doesn't end here with just a fine, that this is part of your record for the rest of the playoffs," Shanahan said.
Meaning, Weber's lost the benefit of the doubt the next time he's involved in a dubious foul and put himself in line for more serious penalties.
Shanahan says he's not naive about the financial deterrent in the punishment, but that Weber has made himself a target. "For a lot of these guys, $2,500, the maximum amount, doesn't mean anything. But what it means to them is that they enter the area of repeat offenders. So when I fine a guy, I say you're now on a much shorter leash."
What does he say to those who think he missed the chance to send a message?
"I think the job is always going to subjective," Shanahan said. "Regardless of who does it, the person is going to be accused of a million things. I don't think people understand the depth of analysis and evaluation that we seek on each case. I get that. People don't have the time to look at things as long and as deep as we do. But this for us is a 24-hour job. As our families can attest, we obsess about it.
"I'm not going to say we're perfect. I do think we're really qualified, and we're really good."
Shanahan says the hit by the Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown on Vancouver's Henrik Sedin on Sunday is typical. The Kings' broadcast crew called it fair. "CBC reported that it was late and an elbow to the chin," Shanahan said. "So a million viewers make up their mind at that moment. And if we say it's not, maybe 100,000 of them believe us. When [Canucks coach Alain]Vigneault and Sedin came out after and said it was a clean hit, it all went away.
"That makes us feel better because we very rarely get confirmation. Our greatest compliment is silence."
Says Echevarrieta: "You line up [TV]clips, and on one it's the crime of the century, on the other it's the greatest hit of the century."
Shanahan insists that those saying he and fellow ex-players Blake and Quintal are being manipulated by owners or others in the game are wrong. "We played too long to ever take on a position where other forces or people were making us do things," Shanahan said. "When I make a decision that you don't like, blame me. None of us needs to do this. People will say: 'He needs the job, of course he'll do whatever they tell him to do.' No one has told any of us [what to do] There's too much scrutiny in this job for any of us to have favourites or alliances with old friends."
Shanahan says he learned early in the job to stop reading social media and most newspapers.
"I stopped after the first week. I said, 'Twitter is nice,' and then after my first suspension, 'Twitter was really mean,' so I never venture into Twitter. I try to not read about us.
"I don't think happy people are motivated to comment. I learned that after we were part of the committee that changed the rules in 2005. Every three or four games there would be a player waiting for me in the hallway to tell me how disgusted he was with the new rules. The happy guys take a shower and get on the bus. Marty St. Louis [of Tampa Bay]wasn't waiting for me in the hallway to say the new rules are fabulous. It was more like my old friend Bryan Marchment saying, 'This is stupid.'"
So what's the life span for a guy in his position? "Round Two," he said with a laugh. "It's one thing to say that as you take the job … that it's a thankless job. It's another to experience it, to live it. You have to have a thick skin, keep your head about you and do this with as much integrity as possible."