What is a ‘Shanaban?’

March 4

All articles are written by YJDP Student Sports Writers and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

Although the voice is different this time, the video started the same. The logo was pieced together with the same sound effects, and the famed first sentence followed: “Saturday night in Long Island,” yet most fans already know the date and location vary by video.

Every time the NHL’s Player Safety and Hockey Operations department decides to suspend an NHL player for an illegal transgression they release a video replaying the situation in question (usually an illegal check) with a full explanation of why the player is being suspended. Over time, these online videos posted on NHL.com have become notorious both in and outside the NHL community for a variety of reasons.

This practice began when former Stanley Cup-winning player and Hall-of-Famer Brendan Shanahan took over the position of President of Player Safety on June 1, 2011. His predecessor, Colin Campbell, was highly unpopular after a scandal developed in which Campbell reportedly was unhappy with the officiating regarding his son who plays in the NHL. Campbell also gave players suspensions for certain hits while not suspending other players in very similar situations, prompting desire for a replacement due to his inconsistency.

Shanahan, who was formerly Vice President of Hockey and Business development, took the position at a difficult time. This started with a famous hit by tough guy Matt Cooke on Boston Bruins center Marc Savard in 2010 that ended Savard’s career after Cooke deliberately made contact with Savard’s head, whic caused him to be stretchered off with a concussion. Since then, the National Hockey League’s Player Association has been calling for increased transparency on suspensions and stricter player safety regulations. Shanahan has been doing his best to answer the bell and bring clarification to this difficult situation. However, controversy remains over the debate on legal and illegal hits and the safety of players’ heads, much like in the NFL.

The videos have become known as “Shanabans”, named after Shanahan and the predictable manner in which the videos banning players follow. After the NHL logo flashes across the screen, Shanahan usually introduces himself and his position in the league, although he has stopped doing this in the more recent videos.

Next, Shanahan announces the location of the game and the time of the game when the questionable hit happened: “Tuesday night in Philadelphia…at 12:34 of the second period” he notes in an early 2011 video suspending Philadelphia Flyers grinder Jody Shelley for five games for a clearly illegal hit in which Shelley slams defenseless Toronto Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce up against the boards.

Then the videos get interesting. Shanahan breaks down each situation differently depending on the following factors: the penalty assessed directly after the play happened, whether or not the player who was hit was injured, and the suspension and fine history of the player who committed the dirty hit. Often, in less serious but still malicious cases that involve things like boarding, kneeing, instigating or charging, a simple explanation is followed by a suspension that usually ranges between two and seven games.

However, this is not always the case. Probably the most striking and memorable example of a ‘Shanaban’ was when Raffi Torres, formerly of the Phoenix Coyotes, was banned a whopping 25 games for an illegal hit on Marian Hossa in a playoff game.  According to Shanahan in the video, the hit was “a violation of 3 NHL rules: interference, charging, and illegal check to the head.” As the replay is shown many times over in the video, which is 4 minutes and 22 seconds long, Shanahan explains exactly how Torres leaves his feet and leaps up during the hit (charging), makes Hossa’s head the principal point of contact (illegal check to the head), and recklessly hits Hossa after he is eligible to be checked in accordance with when he lost possession of the puck (interference).

One recurring instance that pops up in most of the ‘Shanaban’ videos including this one is that the player being hit illegally does not move just prior to or simultaneously with the hit. When this does happen, the player making the check is often not suspended because they were likely not trying to ‘pick the head’ of the other player. However, this was not the case with the Torres incident. Furthermore, Shanahan notes in the video that a serious injury was caused and that Torres has a history of ‘supplemental discipline’ for similar acts, which prompted this highly controversial and lengthy suspension.

Yet, not all players featured in Shanahan’s supplementary discipline videos are suspended. Early in this season, Shanahan released a video over three minutes long explaining why Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson was actually not going to be suspended for a hit on Philadelphia’s Brayden Schenn. In this video, Shanahan goes as far as to completely analyze the Caps’ fore-checking strategies as to prove why Wilson did not excessively seek out Schenn for a big hit from behind, nor commit a boarding penalty worthy of a suspension during this hit. This was one key situation in which Shanahan determined that the player being checked did in fact change his body position simultaneously with the hit (unlike Torres’ hit on Hossa), despite the outcry from Flyers fans about the violent manner in which Schenn was propelled into the boards.

Even though the videos have been running for only a handful of seasons, Shanahan has to deal with vastly different situations between players like Cooke, Shelley, Torres and Wilson, and one of these cases happened just before the break for Olympic hockey. In a game against the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche defensemen Erik Johnson, who is representing the American hockey team in Sochi, was assessed a slashing minor initially and later suspended for his transgression against forward Frans Nielsen.

As the video begins, most fans who have seen a majority of these ‘Shanabans’ were likely expecting Johnson to pick the head of Nielsen and slam it against the boards, as players often due and are suspended accordingly. Instead, Johnson unpredictably chokes up on his stick and wildly whams Nielsen’s hand with his stick, breaking Nielsen’s hand in the process. Johnson was suspended two games for this unlikely incident- slashing is rarely suspended at all and tends to be far less serious than boarding or charging.

Just within this season, Shanahan and his department have already had to deal with many sticky situations involving suspensions and fines, with Wilson and Johnson being just two of many possible examples. Regardless, Shanahan and his patented ‘Shanaban’ videos are finally bringing clarity to fans and players, and there is no doubt there will be more of these videos to come in the near future and beyond.

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