Raffi Torres, Dustin Brown and Hypocrisy on Player Safety

The Raffi Torres suspension has been big news in the NHL.

THW had two pieces out prior to the NHL’s lengthy suspension of Torres. Dustin Nelson first wrote about the Torres hit in this piece, covering both what happened in Anaheim and providing background into Torres’ history. I followed up with an opinion that a suspension was not the right call, it was time to ban him from the NHL. I wrote, “Careers need to end when players, including Torres, insist on making plays that can severely damage the careers and lives of other players.”

After the suspension for 41 games was announced, more was written. Once again, Dustin Nelson covered the specifics, including Torres’ appeal rights. Ultimately, Torres chose not to appeal.

Andrew Bensch weighed in with his thoughts on the suspension, indicating it was longer than he expected (and perhaps a tad too long), but thought the NHL was right, saying “it is great to see the NHL come down hard on Torres for this particular hit”. Kenneth Laws suggested that, now that the league had acted, that the Sharks should take additional action. That the team should release Torres. Laws added “He is a novelty act that is no longer welcome.”

Brett Slawson looked at the suspension from the NHL’s point of view, suggesting it brought a “benefit to the NHL“, indicating it would deter others from similar offenses and ultimately “improve the perception of hockey worldwide”.

If there is a general consensus, it seems to be that the NHL got it more right than wrong when it came to Raffi Torres.

The Bigger Picture

It turns out, the Torres suspension was ONLY about Raffi Torres, not some welcome change to the attitudes of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety (DPS). The idea that the Torres suspension would deter others was put to an immediate test on opening night.

It took all of one game for the NHL Department of Player Safety (DPS) to lose any respect it had gained. In the Sharks opener against the Los Angeles Kings, non-choirboy Dustin Brown took a deliberate head shot at Logan Couture. And the DPS did absolutely nothing. Not so much as a fine. There is no ‘bigger picture’.

Many Sharks fans had hoped the Torres comeback story would work out this season. That he would not only successfully rehabilitate his badly damaged knee, but also his deservedly damaged reputation. It won’t work out that way.

Most Shark fans were fine with the punishment dished out to Torres. But it took no time at all for these same fans to note the rank hypocrisy of the DPS with its non-action regarding Brown’s hit on Couture. Brown coils his body and launches himself, helmet first, into Couture’s head. Both of Brown’s skates left the ice. Of course, Brown saw it differently as reported by the LA Times’ Lisa Dillman: “I stopped and he was going north and I was going south,” Brown said. “You know on the ice whether it’s a borderline hit or not. And it didn’t feel like it to me.” Dillman further reported that Brown “did not hear from the league’s Department of Player Safety”.

It turns out the message sent with the Raffi Torres suspension had only one recipient, Raffi Torres. The DPS sent Dustin Brown a very clear message — what he did was acceptable. Every NHL player got the same message: dangerous hits that risk player safety do not matter unless they are done by Raffi Torres.

The NHL On Trial

At some point, the NHL and the players (or their families in the cases of those deceased or unable) damaged by concussions will square off against each other to court. It is easy to imagine what that scene might look like. The league will claim it looked out for player safety. One of the league’s arguments in their defense will go roughly as follows: we punished those who hit other players in the head to discourage that sort of play.

nhl salary cap
What is at stake with player safety? Among other things, a lot of money.

The players attorney will run the video in this article (and others like it), then ask what tangible action the league took. Did they penalize the player? Fine him? Suspend him? No, no and no. Did the NHL do anything to discourage this sort of play? No, not a damn thing because they did not view this hit as unsafe. For those sitting on a jury, this sort of evidence will be more than compelling, it will be overwhelming. The NHL has a lot to lose, and its making the task of the players’ attorney even easier.

The saddest part of this is that everyone loses. Doing nothing hurts player health, it hurts the reputation of the game and it will cost the NHL even more money. For those who praised the DPS actions regarding Raffi Torres, saying it had sent a message to the rest of the league’s players, its time to stop the praise and begin the critiques again. The league punished the poster child — and then quit doing its job. What should have been a long overdue good start and a new attitude is dead on arrival.

From the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to the commissioner to the Board of Governors, the NHL is in very deep. For everyone’s sake, the hypocrisy needs to stop. Now.