The National Hockey League suspended Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres for 25 games for his hit to the head of Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. It's the third-longest suspension in NHL history as far as games lost, tied with two others and ranking behind a lifetime ban for Billy Coutu in 1927 and 30 games for Chris Simon in 2007.
From the NHL:
Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres has been suspended for 25 games for launching himself to deliver a late hit to the head of Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa during Game 3 of the teams' Western Conference Quarterfinal playoff series in Chicago on Tuesday, April 17, the National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety announced today.
Should the 25 games not be served by the conclusion of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the remaining games of the suspension will carry over into the following regular season. Torres will be prohibited from playing in any preseason games until he has served this 25-game suspension (playoff and regular-season games).
Should the suspension carry over to next season, because he is classified as a repeat offender under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Torres will forfeit $21,341.46 in salary for every regular-season game in which he is ineligible to play.
(An aside: Let's hope the next CBA builds in some sort of financial penalties for players who are suspended in the postseason, because that's an embarrassing loophole in the process.)
The incident occurred at 11:42 of the first period. Hossa suffered an injury as a result of the hit. Torres already has served one game of this suspension, Game 4 of the series in Chicago on Thursday, April 19.
Why? Because he's Raffi Torres, because he injured Marian Hossa significantly and because he violated multiple rules on the same infraction, which is a very intriguing and unprecedented idea offered in this lengthy suspension video by NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan:
It ranks among the longest suspensions in NHL history, equaling Chris Simon's cross-check to the face of Ryan Hollweg in 2007 and Jesse Boulerice's cross-check to the face of Ryan Kesler, also in 2007. It's 13 games longer than the previous largest suspension handed down by Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety, which was given to James Wisniewski for a hit to the head on Cal Clutterbuck in the preseason.
None of those players lost out on playoff games. That Torres did makes this one of the most gargantuan suspensions in hockey history: Essentially, he'll miss the rest of the playoffs if the Coyotes go seven games in each round.
What this suspension isn't, and what it shouldn't be seen as, is any type of benchmark by which previous or subsequent suspensions should be judged.
This is about Raffi Torres, the dullest tool in the shed when it comes to reeducating big hitters in the NHL about player safety.
Was it too much, the right call, or not enough?
The Coyotes released the following statement on the suspension, from GM Don Maloney:
"I want to thank Brendan Shanahan and his staff for their thorough review of this incident," said Maloney. "The ruling is very severe for Raffi and our Hockey Club. Raffi plays a hard, physical game yet this contact crossed the line on what is acceptable in our game today. We hope Marian Hossa makes a full and speedy recovery as we all enjoy watching him perform. The Club accepts the NHL's decision and will focus on our game tonight."
Major points in the video:
• Hossa had clearly released the puck before Torres hit him. In fact, he swings at the puck before he hits him.
• The NHL determined that Torres launched himself into the hit, and by leaping "made Hossa's head the principle point of contact." This is consistent with other Shanahan rulings and has been a particular crusade for the Dept. of Player safety.
• Torres was a repeat-repeat-repeat-repeat offender. Not always launching himself, but targeting the head at least five times. In each case, Torres was told what was wrong with the hits, and what the NHL wanted him to avoid. Yet on the Hossa check, it was the same thing: reckless targeting of the head, this time with horrific results. He just. Doesn't. Get. It.
• Hossa was a critical player for Chicago. The concussion he suffered, according to one source, is a "major" head injury that could have sidelined him for the duration of the postseason. (The Blackhawks have been non-committal on Hossa's status, as these things can change rapidly.)
• But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the suspension was the idea that was for multiple violations of NHL rules: interference, charging and an illegal check to the head.
Go back and watch the hours of suspension videos produced by the NHL this season. Almost none of them explicitly point out the multiple infractions on a given hit. Granted, when giving out a 25-game suspension, your explanation should be air-tight, hence the detail. But if the NHL goes forward with a "multiple infraction" outlook on supplemental discipline, it could make larger suspensions more palatable.
That said: This large suspension is for Raffi Torres alone.
It's not a benchmark, it's not a number you can expect another player to hit any time soon. It's because Torres was told time and time and time and time and time again that he can't hit like this in 2012. He did it again, and he took out a major star player, putting him on a stretcher (which, as we've noted, is the worst thing you can do in the NHL).
Shanahan was given a mandate from the GMs and the Board of Governors: Go after the repeat offenders. Punish the small percentage of players that are injurious, reckless miscreants. He did just that during the season: handing large suspensions to multiple offenders like Wisniewski, Andy Sutton and Dan Carcillo. Torres is certainly in that category, and now he's done for 25 games.
It's too much, in my opinion. There's still a part of me that bristles at giving a guy the Chris Simon treatment for a hit that, frankly, wouldn't have been suspended and would have been part of VHS highlight tapes all but 10 years ago.
I would have gone 10 games. Losing playoff games is more severe than losing regular-season games, and by now we're all pretty sure the Coyotes are advancing.
But the NHL decided Torres has played his last playoff game this season.
Shanahan and the Dept. of Player Safety will be applauded in some circles and likely criticized in others, for various reasons. One thing should be clear, however: As easy as it is to claim this suspension was an attempt to bottle up the violent chaos of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Shanahan doesn't make statements like that with his suspension. If he did, Duncan Keith would have been out for "the remainder of the regular season" for the Sedin hit. He wasn't.
That said, the politics at play here are the same ones inherent in every suspension: the politics of deterrence.
Yes, the main objective is to punish Torres and attempt to finally get him to stop hitting players that are better than him in the head. But it's also a jackboot to the throat of other guys jumping around making "hockey plays" (in their minds) that concuss their opponents
Attention, fellow reckless individuals: Twenty-five games, the rest of the playoffs, is now the cost for your actions. Maybe try to go shoulder to shoulder next time.
Twenty-five games for Torres ... wow, imagine if they had actually called a penalty on the play!
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