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Insider

Shanahan's approach to playoff discipline

3/21/2012
Aaron Rome was suspended for the rest of the finals last season after his hit on Nathan Horton. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

It was a moment that changed the course of the Stanley Cup finals last spring. Early on in Game 3, Nathan Horton fed Milan Lucic with a pass and didn't see Aaron Rome waiting at the blue line. Rome stepped up and flattened Horton with a late hit that knocked Horton out. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher and eventually diagnosed with a severe concussion that cost him the rest of the series.

Rome didn't play another second the rest of the series, either, kicked out of the game and then suspended four games by Mike Murphy, the league's senior vice president of hockey operations. Before that suspension, there were just three players in NHL history suspended during the finals, each for one game.

It was a serious punishment and one that still raises the blood pressure on both sides.

"Now afterwards, and not only because I was in Vancouver, but that was a hard punishment to get. That was way too long," said former Canuck Mikael Samuelsson. "I see why they did it, but now afterwards, I hope they correct it. I hope they learned something."

There's no shortage of Boston Bruins who would disagree with Samuelsson's conclusion.

This spring, there will be more incidents to debate, and now it's Brendan Shanahan handing out the justice in his first postseason as the league's disciplinarian.

During the stretch run, as games heat up in intensity, there have been plenty of controversial moments. Two nights ago, Minnesota Wild fans wanted to see a suspension for Ryan Kesler's hit at the knees of Cal Clutterbuck that received a clipping minor. Shane Doan is in hot water for his elbow to the head of Jamie Benn last night and could be in even more trouble considering he was fined last week for boarding Mark Giordano. Any lost time for Doan would be a huge blow for the Phoenix Coyotes' playoff hopes.

In Florida last week, Shanahan gave the general managers a presentation of some of the hits this season that have received suspensions and some that didn't. He also had a collection of video clips that showed players easing up and showing respect when opponents were vulnerable. It was impressive. It also gave the general managers an opportunity to analyze the discipline decisions when tempers weren't high and their teams fighting hard for their side.

It showed just how closely Shanahan examines each hit before giving out suspensions, right down to which way a skate blade is facing that might give Shanahan an indication as to whether or not a player tried to slow down before a collision.

Shanahan also explained how he'll approach supplementary discipline during the playoffs, where each game is absolutely crucial to players and teams.

"The standard of what is illegal or legal doesn't change," Shanahan said. "For the most part, you're looking at things in seven-game clumps. It's a seven-game season each series."

Shanahan shared a conversation he had with Vinny Lecavalier in which Lecavalier remembered a one-game suspension a player received during the finals that he thought would have earned him at least four or five games during the regular season. Shanahan pointed out that a one-game suspension during the finals is much more severe than a one-game suspension during the regular season.

The bottom line is that one playoff game is worth considerably more to a player than one regular-season game, and Shanahan will consider that in his postseason rulings.

"I can attest to this as a player, if you ask me if I'd rather have a four-game suspension in November than a one-game suspension in the playoffs, I'd take the four-game suspension in November," Shanahan said. "If you think about it, that one game in the finals is the equivalent of a 12-game suspension. ... I don't feel we're in the punishment business, we're in the changing player behavior business. You do that by getting a player's attention."

So there's no doubt a ratio of how much a playoff game is worth compared to a regular-season game. Maybe it's not an exact formula, but if each seven-game series is roughly the equivalent to an 82-game season, things change a bit.

I assigned the ratio math to playoff veteran Kris Versteeg, since I can't calculate anything involving fractions. The question becomes, just how much is one playoff game worth compared to a regular-season game?

"If you go 82 games [against a] seven-game playoff series. 7.5. 7.3? Yeah, I'd say 7.3 games," Versteeg said. "Tell Brendan it's about 7.3 games."

For the most part, players I spoke with seemed comfortable with the idea of giving more weight to a playoff game for suspension.

"It should be treated a little bit differently in the playoffs," said Washington Capitals forward Jason Chimera. "A ratio is a good way to go about it."

"You have to give the players the benefit of the doubt come playoff time, that they're not going there to hurt their own team," said Bruins goalie Marty Turco. "The greatest thing about the playoffs and why it's such an intense deal is it's all for pride. It's for free. It's for that chance for glory. You don't assume guys would take liberties come playoff time."

But a few guys thought the time of year shouldn't have an impact on the length of suspensions, including Shanahan's former teammate Tomas Holmstrom.

"A check from behind is a check from behind. An elbow to the head is an elbow to the head. How can you see through that?" Holmstrom said. "The games are more important, yeah. ... I don't know if it should be any different. I don't think so. You know what you're doing out there on the ice. I don't think it should be any different."

Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik sided with Holmstrom. He wants to see Shanahan aggressive in handing out discipline all season long, playoffs or not.

"Absolutely," Hamrlik said. "If you're doing it, punish the guy for 15-20 games. You're going to think about it if you're going to do it next time or not. A three-, four- or five-game max? The guy is going to do it again. Just send a message."

Notes

• The biggest issue for many players regarding supplemental discipline is the appeal process. Rome considered appealing his postseason suspension last spring but ultimately didn't. The fact that the appeal process is an appeal to commissioner Gary Bettman probably had something to do with it. According to an NHL source, changing the supplementary discipline appeal process will be high on the players' list during upcoming CBA negotiations.

"There's no appeal process nowadays. Shanahan's say is what's said," Chimera said. "It goes to Gary Bettman and Gary ultimately rules with Shanahan. The union has no involvement in the whole thing. It's a major issue."

• The addition of Johnny Oduya has quietly been a strong one for GM Stan Bowman and the Chicago Blackhawks. It has stabilized Chicago's defensive pairings with the reunited Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook being the biggest beneficiaries.

Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that the chemistry is back between Seabrook and Keith. That's a big development as the playoffs close in. "Our team game is way better and way more effective when our defense is at their best, especially that pair," coach Joel Quenneville told the Sun-Times. "The difference in our team results are probably measured when they're on their game."

• The goal of any playoff team is to be playing its best and as healthy as possible when the playoffs begin. Things are shaping up pretty good in that department for the St. Louis Blues. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues had their full opening-day roster on the ice for practice for the first time all season. It marked the return to practice of Alex Steen, who had been in California getting treatment for a concussion. Steen's return could be a huge boost for the Blues heading into the playoffs.

"It's a good start," coach Ken Hitchcock told the paper. "We'll see moving forward how it all turns out. But it was good news. It was expected news. We planned for this. We're still in various stages of repair, but they were able to participate fully in practice the first 50 minutes and go from there."