In National Hockey League's video room, all eyes on safety
By Rob Rossi
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013
NEW YORK — Clip it.
Those words, offered calmly by Brendan Shanahan at 8:46 p.m. Wednesday inside the NHL's Player Safety Video Room, signified a play that unfolded about 1,200 miles away required a closer look.
Chicago right winger Michael Frolik was penalized for boarding Minnesota center Mikael Granlund at 16:08 of the opening period in St. Paul, Minn.
At live speed, Granlund appeared to have been pushed from behind by Frolik into the left-corner boards. Looks, however, often are deceiving in the fast-paced NHL.
That is why this video room exists.
Shanahan, in his second season as NHL senior vice president of player safety and hockey operations, granted the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review exclusive access Wednesday night while members of the Department of Player Safety monitored four games.
Shanahan watched Frolik's hit on Granlund as it happened on a jumbo screen composed of four hi-def panels in a room on the 12th floor of the NHL's Manhattan offices.
“Clip it, and include Toronto,” Shanahan said, referring to the league's other offices, without hesitation or a rise in his voice.
One of two coordinators, Long Island native Evan Rand, starts the process of editing video and logging details of the hit and Frolik's history. In about 15 minutes, Shanahan receives an email he can send to the three others in the room, a couple of former players in Los Angeles and Montreal and five NHL Hockey Operations colleagues in Toronto.
Before the four Wednesday games wrapped, everyone in Player Safety had reviewed the clip of Frolik's hit. Shanahan, who makes the final call on discipline matters, considered all of their thoughts before deciding whether a discipline hearing was required.
A few hours earlier, he had issued a two-game suspension to New York Islanders right winger Colin McDonald.
“Not a dirty player,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan preferred Wednesday be a “quiet night.” That would require him reaching the decision that Frolik's hit on Granlund, even if whistled as boarding, could be just a penalty — not dangerous, careless or intentional.
Just before 9 p.m., Frolik's fate was undetermined. Shanahan had a feeling how this would play out, but he kept it to himself.
He always does until hearing from everybody in the Player Safety family.
This is the routine, played out every day games are played.
Shanahan, who scored 656 goals and collected 2,489 penalty minutes in a 21-season career, knows the good and bad of hockey. He knows this work in the Player Safety Video Room — his idea — will never win him a popularity contest with players, coaches, general managers, owners, fans and, sometimes, even his own daughters.
“No one talks about safe landings at the airport,” Shanahan said.
The idea, Shanahan said, was to provide the Department of Player Safety with a room similar to one at the NHL offices in Toronto designated for goal reviews.
Shanahan is a proud Canadian, but New York is now home. He wanted a room of his own, and to help design it he hired Damian Echevarrieta, who knew the Roger Neilson Video Room in Toronto like he knows the NHL Rule Book.
“He's a human encyclopedia when it comes to NHL rules,” Shanahan said.
Echevarrieta, vice president of player safety and hockey operations, is so versed on specifics that within seconds of the Frolik hit, he started rattling off nuances of the league's revised boarding rule. He cited the second paragraph of Rule 41.
There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the referees when applying this rule.
Echevarrieta's chatter barely registered with Shanahan or Rand.
Michael Grover, a Montreal-born coordinator studying the Canadiens-Ottawa Senators game inside the video room, could not hear Echevarrieta. When noting a game — besides Shanahan and Echevarrieta, no Player Safety member follows more than one game at a time and two in one day — Grover wears headphones.
Narrative is important when noting a game, Shanahan said. Narrative includes hearing the home and away broadcast crews — not for opinion but because announcers could talk about something a coordinator might have missed.
“I love watching games, but I watch them differently now,” Grover said. “A lot of times I'm looking away from where the puck is, a lot behind the play.”
Trends are vital when noting a game, Echevarrieta said. The video room's walls are lined with sheets of paper that list information such as team rosters and players' supplemental discipline history.
One sheet includes Player Safety statistics from last season:
• 869 video clips were sent within the department for internal discussion;
• 35 fines were levied (34 regular season, 1 playoffs);
• 56 suspensions were issued (9 preseason, 34 regular season, 13 playoffs);
• 8 hearings did not result in suspension.
Echevarrieta and Shanahan were quick with these statistics Wednesday.
“More than 10 percent of hearings did not have suspensions,” Shanahan said. “But that also means almost 90 percent of hearings did lead to suspensions. We're not having hearings just to have them.”
Echevarrieta and Shanahan are attempting to perfect the Player Safety process for reviewing a hit like Frolik's. For now, it is a work in progress.
It was efficient Wednesday night.
A coordinator clips the hit, a sequence that takes about 15 minutes. Shanahan receives an email with a subject line similar to this one from Wednesday: RE: Frolik board minor on Granlund.
The email includes details to convey a sense of urgency for deciding on a possible hearing. The email Wednesday noted the Blackhawks' next game was at 10 p.m. Friday at Vancouver.
The email also contained a link that directed to various angles of the hit from NBC Sports Network cameras, including ones never viewed by the public.
Finally, the email noted Frolik's history. He had received a warning for hits on Boston's Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly in the Blackhawks' game against the Bruins on Oct. 15, 2011.
Shanahan forwarded the email to Echevarrieta, Rand and Grover.
Rob Blake, in Los Angeles, and Stephane Quintal, in Montreal, are former players turned Player Safety managers.
They received the email, as did the Hockey Operations team members in Toronto.
Shanahan's message on the forwarded message: “Thoughts?”
He had one rule.
“Don't reply all,” he said. “They know that already. I don't have to say it. I don't want their opinions to be influenced by what the other guys think. That is why the email system works, and it is actually good not everybody is in this room.
“I don't want a room full of sycophants.”
The Player Safety Video Room has two rows of seats. Coordinators manned the lower row. Echevarrieta and Shanahan occupy the higher ground.
Though serious about their duty, the four men tried to prevent an unbearable likelihood of being in the room until early Thursday morning.
They order food every night. Wednesday night, Shanahan's preference for sushi won out, much to the chagrin of Echevarrieta.
Boston rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton became a topic of conversation.
Shanahan and Echevarrieta joked about which comparison by the media was less fair: the one to Blake or Larry Robinson, the latter a Hall of Famer and the former likely to have that honor bestowed upon him.
Shanahan predicted a fight in the Montreal-Ottawa game two seconds before players dropped their gloves.
Grover spotted a potential high stick during a scrum in the same game. He alerted Shanahan, who half chuckled.
“He hit his own player,” Shanahan said.
Grover smiled briefly before returning focus to the screen.
“Inches and fractions of seconds,” Echevarrieta said. “We're looking at games with that in mind.”
Shanahan recalled his past as a player. He said he never focused on anything but playing, practicing, resting and eating.
He doubted current players know, or care to concern themselves with, what goes on inside the video room.
He was not wrong.
“I don't go home and watch games and think, ‘Oh, that should be a penalty. That should be a suspension,' ” Penguins winger Craig Adams said Thursday.
“I don't really know what's going on up there.”
The black, circular clock next to the doorway in the video room shows the time is 9:22 p.m. Shanahan has received his first email response, from Quintal in Montreal.
Within three minutes there were emails from Blake in Los Angeles and Kay Whitmore and John Sedgwick in Toronto.
Grover and Rand will not respond until after their game duties are done, Shanahan said.
Still, by 9:30 p.m., the NHL's discipline czar had enough information to confirm his original feeling about Frolik's hit.
He called up the clip on his laptop. Echevarrieta stood behind Shanahan, and they reviewed several video angles of the hit multiple times.
They had to be certain.
The on-ice official at Minnesota made a good call. Frolik did board Granlund.
However, Granlund turned his skates in the opposite direction while Frolik had committed to the hit. Granlund's move caused him to be launched into the boards. Frolik did not push him.
Shanahan's judgment was to not call for a discipline hearing.
“It was boarding, but that's a good hit,” Shanahan said.
At 9:36 p.m. the sushi had arrived.
Grover had taken a brief break and returned to his front-row station to work the Edmonton-Phoenix game set to faceoff.
Rand was still on the Chicago-Minnesota tilt.
Everybody was hungry, but the Department of Player Safety would enjoy a satisfying Wednesday.
“It got an ‘all clear,' ” Shanahan said Thursday. “I'd say (Wednesday) was a very quiet night for us. There were only four games, and we had several quick reviews that just remained in the room but only one that we went into action on and surveyed the group.
“But, you know, every night really is different.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @RobRossi_Trib.
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