Commissioner promises harsher penalties for head hits

By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was talking tough Wednesday, promising harsher penalties for violence next season and introducing the league's new chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.

A tough as nails former-player, Shanahan replaces Colin Campbell, who had been in charge of dispensing NHL supplemental discipline for 13 years but had come under increasing criticism for what was viewed as wildly inconsistent punishment.

The league continues to struggle to find a balance between player safety and removing the physical component of the game, which is at the heart of the sport and its appeal.

Concussions and the hits that cause them have become the hot button issue in sport this year, particularly in the NHL, and Campbell's uneven suspensions created the perception the league was unconcerned, sparking an uproar among fans and sponsors.

Bettman said Campbell had approached him and suggested a change.

"Collie and I believe it is time to take a fresh look at the standards that we use and if we are going to move to harsher discipline that change needs to send a clear message and we think it would probably be best to do it on a clean slate," Bettman told reporters.

"I know this was one aspect of Collie's job that he hates, it could be the most thankless and worse job in hockey, particularly after enduring it for more than a decade."

"The tipping point was 13 years of dispensing supplemental discipline, and at some point you deserve to have your sentence commuted," Bettman said

Campbell will remain in the league office but will focus his energies on other projects such as scouting and technology.

"It's time to have a fresh look, fresh eyes," said Campbell. "When I took over the job the technology was at a different state than it is now. The most difficult part of supplemental discipline is being consistent."

Bettman, who was in Winnipeg Tuesday to announce the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to the city again downplayed the chances of any other troubled U.S. franchise relocating Canada.

"We're hoping not to do relocation. You all know that we don't believe in doing that, except as a last resort ... and we're not planning on expanding.

"The interest is flattering but I don't want anyone in any market that doesn't have a team to get their hopes up yet."

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)