David Branch (left). (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
By Stephane Quintal's definition of who is qualified to hand out NHL discipline, a progressive hockey mind such as David Branch would not be able to land a job in the leagues department of player safety because he hasn't played in the NHL.
Those of you looking for a fresh, new approach to discipline under new director of player safety Stephane Quintal are going to be disappointed. Quintal has made it clear that he has no intention of deviating from his predecessor, Brendan Shanahan, when it comes to filling the role as NHL sheriff and hanging judge.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you evaluate Shanahan’s performance during his three years on the job. There was no way Shanahan was going to please everyone when it came to handing out suspensions and there were some head-scratchers to be sure, but Shanahan did an outstanding job of communicating his methodology and reasoning behind each of his suspensions. Even if you disagreed with his decision, you could at least appreciate his reasoning behind it. Shanahan streamlined the process and spearheaded its evolution into a pretty well-oiled machine.
The fact that Quintal wants that to continue is good. The fact that he seems to truly want to keep players safe is even better. Just don’t expect Quintal to usher in a new era of discipline in the NHL. Chances are, he’ll be hamstrung by the same pressures and the same culture Shanahan was.
For example, Quintal was a guest on Bob McCown’s Prime Time Sports radio program Tuesday and made it clear that those who are not former NHL players need not apply for a position in the NHL’s department of player safety. “I think you need to for sure have played in the NHL to do this job,” Quintal said. That means Quintal’s replacements for Rob Blake and Brian Leetch as his assistants will come from the ranks of former players only.
Well, doesn’t that feed into an avalanche of stereotypes? First, it reinforces the ridiculous notion that in order to have any feel for the game or make any educated decision about the way it is played you have to have bled on an NHL sweater at some point. Second, it brings only a player’s perspective to NHL discipline. Which would be fine if those who are charged with policing the game – usually the players themselves – weren’t doing such a farcical job of it themselves at times. How can a player be expected to be 100 percent objective in these situations?
And third, it maintains that the NHL will forever be an old boys’ network that will continue to be controlled and administered by those who played the game. How provincial.
If the NHL were truly concerned about the levels of violence in the game and the possible ramifications that can come from it, it would have hired Ontario League commissioner David Branch. But he never played the game, at least at the NHL level. The highest Branch made it as a player was at the U.S. college level with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Branch, one of the game’s most progressive thinkers, has done an outstanding job preserving the physical integrity of the game while also coming down hard on miscreants who step beyond the bounds of the rulebook. Of course, Branch does not have a players’ association looking out for the interests of the perpetrators, at least not yet.
But by Quintal’s definition, Branch would not be qualified to work in the NHL’s department of player safety. Nor would any good lawyer or hockey observer who has not played in the NHL.
Since non-player Brian O’Neill handled this job for the NHL, it has been held by four different people – Brian Burke, Colin Campbell, Shanahan and now Quintal. The latter three combined for 5,101 career penalty minutes in the NHL and Burke was supposedly a tough guy in college and the minor pros and his views on the “pansification” of hockey are well documented.
This is not to say that former players are not good judges when it comes to discipline because it’s undeniable they have a feel for the game at the highest level that the vast majority does not possess. Much of the on-field discipline in the NFL is handled by Troy Vincent and Merton Hanks, both of whom had long careers as players, but non-player commissioner Roger Goodell is also heavily involved.
But the fact is, players are not the only ones with qualifications to make these kinds of judgments. In fact, opening the department up to those who haven’t played at the NHL level would enhance, not diminish its ability.