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The NHL announced on Wednesday that George Parros is the new Senior Vice President of Player Safety, taking the reins of the league’s on-ice supplemental discipline from Stephane Quintal.
“George possesses one of the brightest and most innovative young minds in our game,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of the 37-year-old former Anaheim Ducks enforcer. “He has immersed himself in all aspects of Player Safety during the last 12 months and his selection to run this department not only will maintain the stability and consistency in decision-making that have been essential to the Department’s success but also will enable it to continue evolving in step with our game.”
Parros is an interesting choice for the role, because he’s always been an interesting NHL personality. He had 1,092 penalty minutes in 474 NHL regular-season games during his career, spanning from 2005-14 – playing an on-ice role as a fighter that seemed in contrast with his Princeton educated background. There was some backlash to his promotion, as media and fans couldn’t quite square a guy most notable for throwing punches being tasked with NHL Player Safety.
We asked Parros about that skepticism, and well as his plans for Player Safety, his philosophy about NHL violence, whether the department needs to suspend more players, and whether his new emphasis on addressing slashing plays would have led to a suspension of Sidney Crosby last season.
Q. As expected, when a guy with over 1,000 penalty minutes and a fashion line called “Violent Gentlemen” becomes the head of NHL player safety, there’s going to be skepticism and backlash. How do you answer those critics?
PARROS: I’m happy to answer those criticisms. I welcome it. I read your article, and I agree with it: Who better to run the department than someone that’s been on the front lines and dealt with it?
From the moment I retired, I was after Stephan Quintal to work with the department. I find it interesting work. And who better than me to have this job, as a guy who played as physical as anybody but was never fined or suspended?
I know where the line is. My job was protecting my teammates. Now, my job is protecting 750 guys.
You said this morning that you wanted to crack down on slashing and “non-hockey plays” in your Department of Player Safety. What did you mean specifically?
The department is good hands. All the numbers are trending in the right direction. Suspensions are down, injuries are down. There’s no reason for sweeping reform, but those are two areas I think we can work on – the stick stuff and non-hockey plays.
We try not to judge intent too much in our department, but if there’s clear intent for something that happens on the ice – someone retaliates, someone gets slashed in the face, a non-hockey play away from the play – those are infractions I want to come down hard on.
Is a slash across the wrists a non-hockey play?
No, that’s separate. Slashing is something that’s become a hot topic, especially last season. [NHL director of officiating] Steve Walkom said it’s something the officiating is going to be paying attention to.
I use the term “greater scrutiny” with slashing, because we had 791 slashing minors last season. We know we’re not going to be suspending, or even penalizing, all the infractions. But we’re going to be paying closer attention to them. We’re going to eliminate guys who are repeatedly, with force, slashing guys on the fingertips and slashing guys away from the play. When a guy has the puck on his stick, and they’re slashing the hands, we’re going to be taking a look at that closer.
That doesn’t mean we have a hard and fast rule, but we’re going to try and eliminate those ones.
So is this more about trying to change behavior than it is suspending for injuries?
There’s two things we want to eliminate. We want to eliminate repeat offenders in this department and eliminate the same kind of slashes, although we’ve get to define that. Each play is unique. But initially, I’ll be looking at where the slashes take place. If you’re slashing a guy on the elbow pad, I think that would be different than slashing a guy on the finger tips.
If a guy moves his hand at the last second on his stick, that’s going to be taken into consideration. But if I see a lot of hard fingertip slashes, that’s something I’m going to be looking at.
It’s going to be a moving target, but it’s something we’re going to scrutinize more and more.
OK, so let’s get to it: If it had been the George Parros Department of Player of Safety, and slashing fingertips was something you’re focusing on, would Sidney Crosby had been suspended for that slash on Marc Methot?
I was here for that incident, and that was something, in my opinion, we shouldn’t have acted on, and we didn’t act on it. But I would like to get certain slashes and plays [eliminated], and if it happens again, perhaps it’s a fine. And if it’s the same player that does the same type of slash, maybe that’s a suspension. You have to take it as it comes.
Maybe all of a sudden, with the officiating, they crack down on this and take care of our work for us.
What about slew-footing?
It’s on the radar. Our criteria for a slew-foot in the past is a double leg sweep with an arm pushback, essentially, but like I said: If there’s clear intention on player’s part to even take one foot away and dangerously shove one player to the ice, especially away from the play, then certainly that would be my big concern. If there’s clear intention on someone’s part to injure somebody, we have to consider it seriously.
You were still playing when Brendan Shanahan started the Department of Player Safety. We both remember there being more suspensions then than there are today. Do there need to be more suspensions?
That’s a good question.
Prior to the department starting with Shanahan in 2011, there wasn’t much consistency. There wasn’t much transparency. There was no communication about what was on, and why guys were being suspended. So when the department started, all of that became vital to adding credibility to the department. First and foremost, the players have to belief that are department is handling these plays in the right fashion.
When the department came about, there were a lot of head shots. You had guys like Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres. It was a big issue. So right away, Brendan had to make a statement on those plays. Eventually guys started to get it. We had Rule 48. We have younger guys that have come up playing with stop signs on their backs.
Yes, suspensions were fast and furious when Shanahan first started. But that was a product of reeducating the guys. Now guys are starting to get it. Suspensions are down. That’s great news. That’s the whole point of the department, which is to change player behavior. It’s taking its natural course.
The focus used to be on headhunting. Now the focus is on slashing on the hands. We’re on the right course. Things are good. The game’s in a good spot. But there are areas to focus on.
What needs to change for the Department of Player Safety?
I didn’t recognize it until I took the job: I didn’t realize how much education we do. And that’s something that can be improved upon: More and more education.
We met the rookies at the rookie orientation program last week – 90 of the up and coming class of players in the NHL. We hammered down what we do, how we see things. Certain areas where they can learn to protect themselves, like not putting themselves in a vulnerable position along the boards. The majority of injuries in our game, and suspensions, happen along the boards. So education will be important for us, and eventually I’d like to reach out to even younger players.
As you’ve said before, the challenge is blending player safety with the physical nature of the game. How do you balance it?
Our mission statement says we’re trying to maintain physicality in this game. But at the same time, we’re concerned with players being taken advantage of. We’re not trying to stop good, clean checks, and I think the players get that. Part of this job is maintaining that trust with the players.
(This interview was edited for clarity.)