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There are repeat offenders, and then there’s The Irredeemable Raffi Torres.
The end of the NHL Department of Player Safety video announcing the San Jose Sharks winger’s 41-game suspension on Monday is such a baffling ledger of irresponsible head-hunting that it sounds like it was lifted from a Nancy Dowd screenplay.
April 2011: Torres bravely steps into a crouched, onrushing Jordan Eberle to crack him on the skull with his elbow, earning a four-game suspension.
December 2011: Torres steps up and into the head of Nate Prosser of the Wild for no apparent reason, getting a two-game suspension.
April 2012: The “Citizen Kane” of Torres hits, as he goes late and high on Marian Hossa, putting the Chicago Blackhawks star on a stretcher and earning him a 25-game playoff suspension, reduced down to 21 games.
May 2013: Torres lifts his shoulder into the head of Jarret Stoll in a Sharks/Kings playoff series, earning a suspension for the duration of Round 2.
In 703 NHL games, he was warned, fined or suspended by the NHL on nine previous occasions, before Torres drilled Jakob Silfverberg in the head in a preseason game on Saturday -- launching his shoulder into the Anaheim Ducks winger’s noggin, dropping him to the ice.
There are going to be fans who see this rap sheet and compare it to the rest of the NHL’s recent rogues' gallery – your oft-suspended Chris Pronger, your never-quite-reformed Matt Cooke – and wonder where their 41-gamers are.
But the difference here, as the video shows, is that Raffi Torres is the definition of insanity: He literally does the same thing over and over, expects a different result, and still ends up suspended.
Pronger would mix up an elbow with a skate-stomp. Cooke would headhunt, then board someone. In Torres’s case, this is a seemingly unending string of suspensions over the same type of hit, every time.
When Brendan Shanahan built the Department of Player Safety, he wanted to target repeat offenders and players who couldn’t adapt to the NHL’s new rules. So, basically, Raffi Torres.
Of course, like Cooke, Torres claimed he had seen the light and understood that the way he approached physicality in the game was (a) no longer legal under the NHL’s rules that protected players’ heads and (b) was going to keep him off the ice for large chunks of the season because of his suspension history.
After he sent Hossa onto a stretcher, Torres said he understood that it was “getting to that point” where another significant incident could affect him “long term.” And while he didn’t work with the NHL like Cooke did to better understand what was expected of him, he studied tape and made an effort to change his ways.
At least, that’s what he was saying. “Just by going over clips and clips and clips of that, and seeing that you can do it and I’ve done it before, made it easier,” Torres told Yahoo Sports’ Nick Cotsonika. “My problem’s always been, I get a little too emotional out there. That’s when I get in trouble. But I’ve just taken a step back.”
Or several steps forward, before launching his shoulder into another player’s head, as it were.
From what I’ve been told, there was no discussion of an 82-game suspension for Torres within the Department of Player Safety. This wasn’t a stick swing at an opponent’s head or Todd Bertuzzi getting revenge on the back of Steve Moore’s neck. This was a hockey hit that was completely illegal, but not something that rose to a season-long ban.
No, that’ll be the next time.
It has to be. Once you go half-a-season for a player who can’t stop hitting people in the head, the next step if he does it again has to be a full season, right?
And the thing is, no one would blink an eye at the NHL for it.
While it’s true Torres isn’t a complete waste of skates like Trevor Gillies, for example, no one’s paying to see him play. In fact, they’re usually paying to see the guys he lays out with a concussion. The only thing the NHL loses when it loses Raffi Torres are head shots, in-person hearing invitations, multi-cultural Halloween costumes and empty promises for reform.
So what now for Raffi?
Well, the NHLPA tells us that if Torres wanted to appeal, the NHLPA would do so on the player’s behalf. The appeal would be filed in writing within 48 hours of the League’s notification of the suspension. So as of now, no word on if he’ll appeal a suspension for the second time in his career.
Then there are the San Jose Sharks. What do they do with Raffi?
Michael Russo notes that with NHL rosters due to be set by tomorrow, the Sharks are going to have to decide if they want to dedicate a contract to a player that can’t go 15 games without a suspension.
In the hours after the NHL announced its 41-game suspension of Torres, the Sharks had yet to issue a statement of any kind, let alone a full-throated defense of their player as they did after the Stoll hit.
Maybe there’s just nothing left to say in defense of Raffi Torres.
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