TORONTO - Brendan Shanahan has no plans to preside over a league where goalies have to worry about getting hit. And he thinks it's "irresponsible" for the Buffalo Sabres to suggest otherwise.
The NHL's new sheriff reacted strongly to complaints from the Sabres on Monday after he elected not to suspend Bruins forward Milan Lucic for his collision with Buffalo's Ryan Miller.
"I think Buffalo's comments are irresponsible to suggest that it's open season," Shanahan said at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "I will have this warning for players: `It's not. If you run a goalie you're going to find yourself in the same situation that Lucic was today, you're going to have to explain yourself and you don't explain it sufficiently, and if I don't buy it, you're going to be suspended."'
On Saturday, Miller was knocked to the ice by Lucic when the goalie strayed from his net to play the puck in the first period of Buffalo's 6-2 loss. Shanahan held a hearing with Lucic on Monday and was satisfied with his assertion that he didn't have time to avoid the collision.
"I judged this case for what this case was," said Shanahan.
Miller suffered a concussion on the play and called Lucic "gutless" afterwards. The Sabres were perplexed that the rugged Bruins forward wasn't suspended and suggested it sent a message across the NHL that goalies won't be protected.
"It just means that teams will be to able do exactly what Lucic did," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told reporters in Montreal. "Your goaltender can play the puck, we can run him over, we can hurt him and all you get is a two-minute minor penalty.
"That is essentially what that means—You can concuss the other team's goalkeeper ... it means it's fair game on goaltenders again."
The controversial remarks come at an interesting time. Shanahan is scheduled to make a presentation to the league's 30 GMs during a meeting on Tuesday and expects a frank discussion about his first couple months on the job.
Ultimately, he thinks a rule change will need to be made before he can suspend every player that collides with a goaltender.
"If they feel, as (Sabres GM Darcy Regier) suggests, that goalies are like quarterbacks and that their needs to be a higher standard in supplemental discipline (I'm open to that)," said Shanahan. "I'm not a policy-maker, but I'm a policy enforcer. If these guys want that I'm happy to enforce that policy.
"But I don't think that I can just go and do this because this happened to a great goaltender like Ryan Miller."
Shanahan has been a busy man since replacing Colin Campbell over the summer. He's already handed out 14 suspensions this season and drawn some criticism for fulfilling a mandate to make them harsher than in the past.
And he's come to understand that criticism is never far away.
"I think the job is always going to be grey," said Shanahan. "It's not black and white because people have their own perspective. You could line up 100 Hall of Famers in this room and watch that (Lucic) hit and they could be 60-40 or 50-50 on what the decision should be. Fans will do that too. ... I feel that in the bigger picture we are changing player culture. Each and every specific decision will be dissected, good or bad.
"If I suspended Lucic I'm sure there would be a lot of people that thought it was the wrong decision, but I think the greater point in all of this is I see that players are reacting and responding."