Brutal hockey hits are like snowflakes, if snowflakes were designed by Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach: No two are alike, and everyone sees something different in them.
The moment when that became apparent about the Raffi Torres hit on Brent Seabrook in Game 3 between the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks arrived for me this morning, when a reader named Ryan said over Twitter:
"No intent to separate man from puck. Intent was to decapitate. Time to make an example."
Now, you see, I think the legality of what Torres did can rightfully be questioned. If it wasn't a hit to the head, then at the very least he went in high on him; and in the Rule 48 society of today's NHL, the onus is on the hitter to not kabong a guy on the noggin, which Torres should have learned after he was sent to the press box for two regular-season and two postseason games following that hit on Jordan Eberle(notes). (Keeping in mind this wasn't a blindside hit but a north/south one; just pointing out where the culture is.)
But the "intent was to decapitate" with no regard for the puck?
Sorry, I think we're watching two different plays. Here's the one I saw:
What you'll notice is Jannik Hansen(notes) beating Troy Brouwer(notes) to the puck and passing it behind the net. Seabrook turns to try and steal the pass, and that's when Torres levels him. To act as if this play had nothing to do with the puck is asinine: He's trying to wipe out a defensive player to gain possession of the puck.
The only debate in that regard is whether a check is still a 'hockey play' in today's NHL, because what Torres did on a north/south hit right there made the Scott Stevens fan in me grin and point to the opponents bench to ask "who's next?"
For this hit, Torres received two minutes for interference, because neither player had possession of the puck. Not elbowing nor roughing nor a headshot, despite Torres reacting like a guy on parole who just got caught in the passenger's seat of a stolen car.
Rule 48 was put in place to guard players against blindside or lateral hits that target the head. The league could impose supplementary discipline and suspend a repeat offender because you can argue that Torres delivered a lateral blow. And the odds are probably good that Torres won't escape unscathed and will be suspended.
Keith Ballard(notes) was on the ice when Seabrook was hit and tried to take make philosophical assessment. He has had his head down when circling the net and has been crunched without the opposition player drawing a penalty.
"I thought he hit him with the shoulder and the puck was there," shrugged Ballard. "Is it a normal hit? He just hit him hard. They can slow it [replay] down and see something they don't like. I know they're trying to take away some of these hits and I'm for taking the dirty hits out of the game. But there's a responsibility to have your head up and take a hit as well."
All of this makes me wonder if the NHL officiating crew even reads the rules. The NHL has to do a better job with communicating the actual rules to the referees in the league. Everyone remembers back in January when the star of the NHL Sidney Crosby(notes) took a shot to the head during the Winter Classic, and the Referees did nothing; neither did the league.
All of that has to change for the sake of this sport that we all love. Raffi Torres did the exact same thing to Edmonton's Jordan Eberle, which makes him a repeat offender. The league should throw the book at him just as they finally did to Penguins headhunter Matt Cooke(notes), and Islanders crazy man Trevor Gillies(notes).
From the Make An Example of Him! side, Roy MacGregor of the Globe & Mail:
However, let's look at this strategically rather than technically. The NHL has other tools than Rule 48, for heaven's sake. There's varieties of "intent to injure" transgressions that are rarely, if ever called. And there's the very simple fact that it was, without argument, a hit to the head. And Raffi Torres is the Western Conference's Matt Cooke, a serial hitter just back from another suspension.
He will get suspended. I'd like to see at least four games. If the NHL elects to do nothing, strategically they will have failed to send out exactly the right signal for exactly the right time. The playoffs have just started. It's the simplest thing in the world to act today and take headshots of all kinds out of the playoffs.
And finally, The Ken Campbell side, in which The Hockey News' caustic columnist argues that Raffi Torres should be banned for the rest of the postseason:
If Torres is coming off a suspension and doesn't have the presence of mind to restrain himself when he sees Seabrook in that vulnerable position, he's either too stupid or too reckless to enjoy the privilege of playing the game for a good long time. I suspect it's the latter, but if the NHL wants to send a message to players that they have to be responsible for their actions, this would be the perfect opportunity.
After the game, we had no real information on whether or not Seabrook went to the notorious quiet room after the hit from Torres and there seemed to be nothing but confusion surrounding the NHL's concussion protocol as it applied to that situation. But there was absolutely no confusion over the Torres hit. It was a classic head shot to an unsuspecting opponent in a vulnerable position who had no opportunity to defend himself.
It's gotten to the point in the NHL with this "unsuspecting opponent" crap that I'm wondering if hitters need to stop on a dime, loudly whistle to get an opponent's attention, scream, "HELLO, IT'S A PLEASURE TO MAKE YOUR ACQUAINTANCE. I'M GOING TO HIT YOU NOW, BUT I NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU SEE ME. DO YOU SEE ME? YES? OK" and then check him.
I know things like Rule 48 have taken the responsibly away from the player being hit, and I know there are always going to be arguments about players in a "prone" position. But hits that catch an opponent off-guard about going to happen, and they're not always illegal to the point of suspension.
If you want to have hockey where every single play features the players facing forward and going north/south, than this is more your speed: