Ever since Brendan Shanahan dropped the hammer on Phoenix Coyotes’ forward Raffi Torres, suspending him for 25 games for a vicious hit on Chicago winger Martin Hossa. The suspension, the longest since Chris Simon was gonged for 30 games for stomping on the ankle of Jarkko Ruutu in December 2007, has many in the sport debating whether it was too long, too short, or just right.
Those who say the suspension was unjust have been the most vocal. Let’s take a look at the main arguments against the suspension.
It was a hockey play and therefore not that bad of a hit: If someone tries to tell you this, just walk away. These people certainly may love hockey, but they don’t want to see it grow. A hit like the one Torres threw at Hossa is not a hockey play. Torres was looking for someone to hit, and he found his victim in Hossa. Not only did Hossa not have the puck (interference), he was turning back into the play to look for the puck and was struck on the blind side by Torres, who took multiple strides (charging) before exploding and leaving his feet while targeting Hossa’s head (rule 48). This one hit violated three NHL rules, but more importantly, it showed a lack of respect for an opponent as he hit a player who had every right to believe he would not be hit, seeing as he did not have the puck.
These types of hits were commonplace in the past: Hitting players without the puck has never been legal, and it is rare to see a hit to the head at any point in the past. This is not to imply that these types of hits never happened, but it was not common practice. Most players in the past respected their opponent’s too much to throw a hit like that in the past.
It is inconsistent with the other suspensions: So? Just because the NHL may have screwed up the discipline on Matt Carkner and Shea Weber, it does not mean they compound the problem by screwing up future discipline. The Torres suspension shows that maybe, just maybe, the NHL learned from its mistakes.
It is too harsh: Really? This is a guy who has been suspended five previous times for headshots, including twice earlier this season. And that does not count the blindside headshot he delivered the Chicago’s Brent Seabrook during last year’s first round (while Torres was with Vancouver). Even worse, Torres has never shown any remorse for any of his hits. After the hit on Hossa, he again demonstrated no shame, instead choosing to say he was just finishing a check. Torres obviously has not learned from his previous infractions, and Shanahan sent a clear message that a history of headhunting was finally enough.
Torres has earned his reputation as a headhunter, and the time had come to let him know his actions were no longer welcomed in the NHL. A 25-game ban, which will hit him hard in the wallet, might just be the lesson he needs. If he cannot learn from this and change, he never will.
His 25 games were well-earned and even more well-deserved.
(Steve Kendall has covered the sport of hockey for over 20 years at various levels for the Boston Herald, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and New England Hockey Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at stevekendallthw).