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What is the NHL saying with hiring of ex-enforcer?

FILE - In this March 5, 2014, file photo, Montreal Canadiens right wing George Parros (15) fights with Anaheim Ducks right wing Tim Jackman (18) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, in Anaheim, Calif. The NHL has tabbed former enforcer George Parros to run its department of player safety. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Parros’ appointment to senior vice president of player safety on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)
Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP photo

George Parros was named senior vice-president of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. While he may be perfectly capable to assume this role, the issue lies with the optics of the NHL relying on a former enforcer for the position.

The issue may not be with Parros himself, but with the league’s decision to hire a former enforcer to lead a department that is tasked with deciphering whether a play was illegal and merits supplemental discipline. As much as the NHL may believe the department requires a player who has experience in the type of play being analyzed, it needs to show balance in its hirings, with a player on the other side of the spectrum who was a notoriously clean in his  career.

Parros played 474 games in the NHL between the 2005-06 season and 2013-14. He only scored 36 points in that time, but accumulated 1,092 penalty minutes, which included more than 150 fighting majors. Previously, the department was led by Brendan Shanahan (2011-2014) and Stephane Quintal (2014-17) – adding up to 4,901 career penalty minutes between the three former players who have held this position.

The argument for Parros has been supported by two primary factors. First, he’s experienced these plays firsthand and managed to accumulate those penalty minutes without ever being suspended in his NHL career. And he’s actually well-educated and capable of running a department.

It’s not to say that either argument isn’t true though. Parros was never suspended in his NHL career, despite playing such a physical game. The flaw in that argument is that the league wasn’t as strict on these types of calls during most of his career. Had those taken place in today’s NHL, it may have been a different story at times – if a player like Parros even still could find a place in the league, as many teams have trended away from employing an enforcer-type player.

The other argument relies on his background before the NHL, as he was a graduate of Princeton University, just like Kevin Westgarth who is the NHL’s vice-president of business development and international affairs. Parros’ Ivy League education fuels the narrative that he’s qualified for this position, but that’s not necessarily the case, either. While he’s clearly a smart individual, it begs the question of why this of all positions is right for someone with a degree in economics.  Wouldn’t he be better suited in the league’s financial departments instead?

Overall, the problem isn’t Parros per-se. In fact, he may be the right former enforcer to lead this department. Since being named to this position, his acknowledgement of necessary changes is actually somewhat enlightening.  He’s shifting the focus to the need for more player education, discipline for intentional slashing and overall consistency. Whether he actually accomplishes this remains to be seen, but it’s definitely an important step in the right direction.

Rather, the problem is the NHL and the optics of its decisions. This department in the league has been plagued by inconsistency and hasn’t been nearly effective enough. Also, many of the problems with the league’s disciplinary system stem from the rules themselves – rules that are written too ambiguously and allow too much interpretation for such a serious offense.

For a league that’s embroiled in a lawsuit about their handling of concussions – many of which were caused during plays that were not disciplined for their illegality at the time – to rely on players that played such a physical style is inexplicable. If these are the player types they truly believe should lead the department, there has to be some sort of balance with their hires. In the past, they had this balance at times, such as when Brian Leetch was a part of Player Safety. Since then, though, it’s been missing, as they’ve employed players such as Chris Pronger instead.

Not only was Parros hired as a player who embodies so much of what is considered to be problematic with the NHL’s game, but there’s consideration for Shane Doan to join the department as well. He’s yet another player with a borderline on-ice history, and his hiring would prolong the issues that have put the league’s priorities into question.

The NHL could have just as easily hired a player with a different perspective, such as a former  Lady Byng winner. Paul Kariya, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Brian Campbell all won the Lady Byng and displayed how to consistently abide by the league’s rules. It would show the other side of the spectrum, in contrast to those players who spent their careers accruing penalty minutes. Plus, they’ve experienced the other side of the physical plays that are being put under the microscope and could give the other player (other than the aggressor) a voice in these infractions.

Having those diverging opinions would certainly balance out the perspectives within this department, and would improve the perception of a former enforcer, regardless of his qualifications for the position. That needs to be the priority of a league that’s considered to have a culture problem.

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