'Sheriff' Shanahan on his duty in the NHL

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'Sheriff' Shanahan on his duty in the NHL

OTTAWA Brendan Shanahan took humorous issue with the perception that his role as the resident NHL Sheriff was the most thankless job in the league.

Hey, I just had somebody come up to me and thank me last night, so there you go. But I havent suspended anybody in two days, said Shanahan, with a smile thats never cracked during his serious-as-a-heart-attack supplemental discipline videos aired on NHL.com after fines, suspensions or pertinent non-rulings. The feedback from the players that I get is that the videos show transparency. Whether you agree or disagree, it shows the level of work that we put into it and its something that really forces us to be better.

Ive had five or six hearings where evidence has been put to us where maybe in the past somebody would have said well, its pretty compelling evidence but were going to suspend you for three games and thats the end of that. If we cant really prove it on the video then we wont suspend. The video really forces us to ask those questions and sometimes we have players and teams come out and say it was not an illegal hit. Well, the video speaks for itself.

Its been a busy first four months on the job as the NHLs VP of Player Safety for Shanahan as hes been consistently doling out fines, suspensions, and warnings in person and over the phone since the beginning of the preseason while attempting to achieve consistency and fairness. Its a difficult balance and an endless job to provide NHL justice that everyone thinks is fair, but at the end of the day Shanahan and fellow staff members Rob Blake and Stephane Quintal know its about two things more than all else: A) protecting the players from predatory hits and B) making certain that a respectable level of hard, physical hockey remains in the game.

So with that in mind Shanahan held court with the media on a variety of topics after a very well-received first four months on the job, and weve listed some of his greatest hits from his half-hour session with the media:

Shanahan on the notion that it should be a panel of individuals with NHLPA representation involved voting on supplemental discipline rather than one so-called sheriff: I think thats something theyll discuss in collective bargaining. I feel that a panel of people . . . you know right now to a certain degree we already have that here. Weve got Rob Blake, weve got Stephane Quintal and weve got guys in hockey operations that have a historical knowledge of this that have been doing it for a long time. In real time you have to act swiftly. Sometimes you can sleep on something to make a call because the team isnt playing for a couple of days and other times theyre about to get on a plane and travel to another city they need to play and their minor league team might be 1,000 miles away. You have to act quickly and you cant be sleeping.

Shanahan on the notion that injuries sustained from questionable plays shouldnt be criteria in his suspension rulings: They always have been a factor and they always will. But at the same time in every suspension theres almost two parts: theres the trial and the sentencing. The injury isnt part of the trial, but its part of the sentencing. I think it reflects how we do justice in Canada and the United States as well. Theres the guilty act which puts you before the court, and then quite honestly you can see in examples in courts the results of those guilty acts upon the person youve committed the crime against. It reflects in the sentencing. I had a player that asked me if we have a player that gets hurt on a clean hit, but the attacking player has a history is that going to lead to a suspension. I said no . . . the presence of an injury doesnt make a legal hit illegal, however if its an illegal hit, a lack of an injury will exonerate a player. But the presence of an injury will get the offending player more games.

Shanahan on the differences between Brad MarchandNick Foligno clipping hits that happened within days of each other, with the Marchand hit meriting a five-game suspension and the Foligno hit resulting in a minor clipping penalty: Two hits may look alike to an average viewer, or even to a player. We do this every day. This is our job. Players have a job to do and this is our job to do every single day. We can look at the Marchand hit on Salo, for instance, and then a week-and-a-half later look at the Foligno hit on Phaneuf and we can see four significant differences between the two plays. It makes one of them suspendable and it makes the other one that Foligno got a phone call in the morning.

Shanahan on repeat offenders: The one thing I make clear is that the one thing you dont want to be if you come before me is as a repeat offender. Thats the direction I got from the general managers and the players if a guy is constantly doing that stuff. Now we also look at the specificity of his history. How recent is it? Is it of the same nature? Its not a box that we check, but at the same time if I feel like Ive made a bad decision or if I was light on a guy, or hard on a guy those are often the one or two decisions that people will try to use as my precedent. If I miss one, I miss it. Im not going to be bound by it. Imperfection, I admit. Its if I feel in the end Ah . . . Id like to have that breakaway back. If a player is confused about a ruling, my answer is to call me. We make more information available. Weve got a catalogue of suspensions that live on NHL.com. Sometimes players will say 'I dont understand why I was suspended . . . this is inconsistent. This is stupid.' It reminds of my math teacher trying to teach me trigonometry. I didnt understand it, but I didnt say trigonometry was stupid. I just didnt understand it. If a player doesnt understand what were doing then call us and well try to teach it to you. Ive had hearings with players where theres been no suspension, and Ive gotten off the phone with the guy and said were never going to hear from that guy again just with a warning. Ive also given out multi-game suspensions, and then got off the phone and said well see them again.

Shanahan on the state of hitting in the NHL: I think its harder to hit. I think youre starting to see the people that can hit really well . . . its an art form. People used to talk about Scott Stevens. Hes in the Hall of Fame. He had Hall of Fame timing. It wasnt about grabbing some young guy, putting him in a suit of armor and saying Go! Theres timing. Theres sense. You guys probably know the stats better than I do, but Scott Stevens had very little elbowing penalties in his entire career. There are a lot of people that want to hit like Scott Stevens, but they dont have his timing. I think the game is physical. The hits that are down Im hoping are the hits that we wanted to get rid of anyway. If we had 45,000 hits (last year) and were down to 40,000 at the end of this year, Im just hoping those 5,000 were bad ones.

Shanahan on Matt Cooke: "Matt Cooke had a conversation with me at the start of the year that has for the most part held true. If hes coming up on a hit and as hes about to hit the player he thinks its 5050 where it could be suspension-worthy, he knows, Ray Shero knows and Dan Bylsma knows hes not going to throw that hit. I dont think theres anything wrong with that. Philadelphia told me about Zac Rinaldo, who is a really big hitter. He hits hard. What the Flyers instructed him on was this: we know that you see 20 hits a game in your head, but pick the best three that youre most certain of. Thats enough to be a physical presence and be an intimidating presence to the other team. When I hear coaching like that, Im thinking okay, there is full buy-in there. Its going to take him. Humbly I say were doing our best. I dont believe in being unforgiving. We play, we know that things happen quickly and emotions run high. There are some players I can give seven or eights game to, I read their comments and I know that they dont get it. I dont feel like Im in the business of punishing. I hope were in the business of changing behavior. In the back of my mind we want hitting in the game, and thats the delicate balance of what we do.

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

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Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test. 
 

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

Report: Bennett playing with cracked bone, bone chips in ankle

FOXBORO -- Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett admitted last week that he has been dealing with a variety of physical ailments throughout the course of his first season with the Patriots. "I've been fighting through [expletive] the whole year," he said, "and I'm not gonna stop now."

PATRIOTS-STEELERS PREGAME

Bennett suffered a knee injury against the Texans last week that limited him in practices leading up to the AFC title game, but he's also had to cope with ankle and shoulder issues for much of the season.

On Sunday, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted: "Patriots love Martellus Bennett's toughness. Example: He plays with a cracked bone [and] bone chips in his ankle. Surgery likely this spring."

Bennett initially showed up on the Patriots injury report with an ankle issue after having his leg twisted awkwardly during a win over the Browns in Week 5. It hampered him for much of the regular season, and he seemed to aggravate it further while being tackled during a Week 12 victory at Met Life Stadium over the Jets. The following week, a win against the Rams, Bennett admitted he had what was probably his worst game of the season.

Bennett has continually played as the top tight end on the Patriots roster since Rob Gronkowski landed on injured reserve. He played in 64 of a possible 69 offensive snaps against the Texans in the Divisional Round, and he has played at least 43 snaps each week since the Patriots' bye in Week 9. For the season, he has played in 78 percent of New England's offensive snaps.

Bennett is due to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. He'll turn 30 years old in March.