Player safety is an area that the NHL has been striving to improve for a long time now. New protocols for concussions are in place, and the league claims to be cracking down harsher on headshots and “non-hockey plays.”
Along with those new mandates, the Department of Player Safety in recent years has had multiple jobs held by former players, including Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, and Stéphane Quintal. After three years at the helm, Quintal will step down, and replacing him will be long-time NHL enforcer George Parros.
Parros has been retired since 2014, when he played his final NHL season with the Montreal Canadiens. As many will remember, that tenure was marred by a terrifying incident on opening night, with Parros knocked out cold after being pulled face first onto the ice by Colton Orr.
Following his recovery from a severe concussion resulting from that incident, Parros fought Eric Boulton of the New York Islanders in one of his first games back, and was swiftly sidelined with a concussion once again.
In terms of NHL enforcers, Parros is not a stereotypical knuckledragger. He graduated with a degree from Princeton University in Economics, and runs a clothing line that has been quite successful throughout his career. He has been a part of the Department of Player Safety since 2016 as well, so he’s familiar with the job he’s expected to do. He was never known for being overly emotional on the ice, preferring to do his job quietly when called upon, and by the unwritten code of the game.
Being a former player, especially one that has dealt with the dregs of NHL rosters for most of his career, Parros is knowledgeable in what a “hockey play” should be. He’s been on the ice and no doubt seen his fair share of hits that deserved a suspension, and can use that experience in doling out punishments.
Slashing and non-hockey plays where he feels players are purposely trying to injure. Says he plans to be harsher on those incidents— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) September 7, 2017
It’s clear he has a targeted focus on his approach to discipline, especially after several high-profile injuries popped up throughout last season, notably the Minnesota Wild‘s steady stream of slashes that eventually broke Johnny Gaudreau’s hand, and Sidney Crosby slashing off part of Marc Methot’s finger.
While they’re currently just words, his statements are a promising sign that he recognizes there is an area of player safety that had been overlooked in favour of more severe contact, and that needs to be focused on and improved immediately.
The flip side of this hire is that despite all the positives that he brings, he’s also part of a group that abided by a self-imposed honour code while punching each other in the face for a living. He’s extremely well educated, but it doesn’t change the fact that his only real use in the NHL was to break a rule night in and night out in a vain attempt to keep teammates safe.
While his clothing line is highly successful, it’s main selling point is a part of the game that endangers players’ health. The man who sells hats that say “Make Hockey Violent Again” now heads up the department in charge of sentencing NHL players for overly physical fouls.
Those optics aren’t great, and for someone who made their career off of fighting in the sport of hockey to defend teammates after perceived infractions, there could be huge biases in judgment on what he considers a “hockey play.”
Therein lies the issue: a former player, while being far more experienced than an outsider, is susceptible to his own biases. How does he read an incident like the one involving Evgeni Malkin and Blake Wheeler last season? Do they consider that type of hit a “hockey play” and let it go after it was settled with fists later on?
Having former players like Parros in the Department of Player Safety isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact in an advisory role their experience makes them key assets. However, the head of the department should be as impartial as possible and be able to evaluate each incident with no preconceptions.
It’s obviously not fair to say that Parros won’t do well in his role. He could well turn out to be an outstanding lead of the program. But there are several red flags that pop up when taking a deeper look at the appointment given his background in the sport, and the fact that some former players have been less strict in their sentencing than many — including active NHL players — would have liked.
Going forward it might be wise for the NHL to groom non-players for this role, with additions like Parros or rumoured future addition Shane Doan being employed to serve on an advisory committee. There the former players could impact decisions, but not be utimately responsible for making them.