Conversation With Future Hockey Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan

I recently spoke with NHL Vice President of Hockey and Business Development and future Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, on the topic of the increase in size of equipment and concussions in the NHL. We discussed numerous aspects of the dilemma, including reminiscences to when he played, his opinion on the way young hockey players are raised with physical play, and more! Here’s a piece of the transcript of the conversation.

Alan Bass: How much of an effect do you think the increase in size of pads has on concussions in the NHL?

Brendan Shanahan: I think it’s a difficult thing to actually collect data on. But I can say that there are probably a whole lot of theories that people can attribute the increase in head injuries – including just better awareness and better education from the players, and reporting from the teams from when I played. But I have to actually, among other things like the playing environment, rules, and things like that, I think the sizing has played a psychological effect in a way, on the behavior of players, starting at a young age. All I have to do is watch my son. The first time he put on shoulder pads, he wanted to go run into walls, because he just thought it was hilarious that it didn’t hurt. We’ve actually, in partnership with the union and Mathieu Schneider, have posted that questions. At what point are we over-protecting, and is the net result of over-protecting just turning them into weapons. Also, have we created a culture of players that don’t ever apply the brakes because what used to hurt, running into other players’ heads or missing a player and hitting the boards, now a player doesn’t feel it. We’re looking for a balance here, and that seems to be the key word, between protection and over-protection.

AB: When you played, because of the equipment being much smaller, did it hurt to lay your shoulder into someone?

BS: It certainly hurt if I didn’t line a guy up correctly, or if he sidestepped me and I went into the boards. It was just a respect and fear that I had that I needed to hit a player correctly. Unlike other sports, we don’t have out of bounds. We have a hard, protective exterior, where we can’t have players run out of bounds. I do think that, as I approached the boards, I knew that I certainly needed to apply the brakes a little bit. I don’t think we’re looking for equipment that will hurt players when they deliver hits. But I do think that if you hold your hand over fire long enough, you should get burned a little bit.

AB: Because of the increase in size of equipment, it seems that players are willing to lunge their bodies into another player, since they aren’t going to get hurt by it. Do you agree with that?

BS: It’s a theory, and it’s a theory that I want to explore further. I think there’s some merit to that, but I don’t think it’s something you can say, “I know this to be an absolute truth.” But it’s a theory that I agree with and something that I want to explore further.

AB: In your opinion, do you think the number of injuries saved by a decrease in equipment size would outweigh any added injuries from that decrease?

BS: My own personal opinion – and Mathieu Schneider from the union feels the same way – is that we don’t want to put any player in harm’s way. We don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul. I certainly think we would all agree that if we had to choose between being able to remember my name when I’m 60, as opposed to being able to serve overhand when I’m 60, I think I’d rather protect my brain. But to just want to say, “Let’s take shoulder pads off, we don’t care about shoulders.” We care about all parts. There’s a responsibility to seek a balance, and to me, that’s the key. And sometimes it makes sense. There are some people that believe putting a stop sign on the back of kids’ jerseys help, and that’s a great idea. But there are also people that believe that it taught kids to play the game with no fear of being hit from behind, and they didn’t learn what we learned as young players, which was never turn your back on the play when you’re two feet from the boards. If you had to turn your back on the play, you made sure you were against the boards. Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished. I think we did create, over the last decade, better shoulder pads. The lighter, their safer, their bigger. But at what expense? The wheels are in motion from the union and the NHL to request from the manufacturers to find that balance, to find something that is protective, it has absorption qualities, but not so much projection qualities. And we’ll see where that goes.

Alan Bass, a writer for The Hockey News and, is the author of The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed The NHL Forever. He has worked for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Fan Development department, going to schools throughout the tri-state area to teach about fitness and the importance of teamwork. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College Division II hockey team as well. You can contact him at

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