In about a week, the San Jose Sharks will reach the midpoint of their season. And unlike most seasons, this midpoint actually comes with something tangible. The Raffi Torres suspension will end. Torres received a 41 game suspension for his hit on Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg during the 2015 preseason. As the suspension comes to its end, it is a good time to look at its impact.
I’ve identified several major stakeholders and how they fared. For all the hoopla surrounding it, the suspension looks to be an underachiever. Not surprisingly, the biggest losers work in the NHL’s corporate offices.
The NHL Department of Player Safety (DPS)
The NHL DPS comes out a loser. Whatever credibility they might have gained from going after Torres was short-lived. That credibility was lost by a failure, a chronic failure, to enforce player safety in a broader way with any real sense of diligence. For example, the opening night head-butt by Dustin Brown on Logan Couture in the video clip below drew nothing from the DPS. The list of offenses that DPS has managed to ignore is ridiculous. If someone attempted to compile a list of the top ten offenses the DPS ignored, they be swamped by the available material. The only player that needs to fear a harsh reaction from the DPS is Raffi Torres. That sort of hypocrisy not only hurts the game, it insures the DPS has no credibility in the eyes of the people it must be credible to – the players.
The San Jose Sharks
If Torres isn’t suspended, do the Sharks fare any differently? No. Torres has struggled to overcome a serious knee injury and had yet to prove he was healthy, even as he was playing limited minutes in the preseason. For those who wondered if Torres was close to healthy in the preseason, they have their answer. Another procedure was performed on his damaged knee in early December. Torres was suspended for 41 games, but it appears he was never healthy enough to play effectively anyway.
The player should be the one major loser in all this. And he did lose, but not as much as one might guess.
Torres lost money from the suspension, though not nearly as much as it would have been had he been defined as a repeat offender by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Yes, the bizarre language in the CBA defined Torres as a first time offender. In practice, Torres lost less than a quarter of his $2 million salary, despite being suspended for half the regular season.
The other aspect of this, the suspension gave Torres added time to return to fuller health. This is a blessing in disguise. Torres likely wants continue his NHL career beyond the end of his current contract (it ends this season). An unhealthy Torres, had he tried playing early in the regular season, would have diminished his future value. A healthier Torres, trying to prolong his career, needs to prove he can play at a level that would give a team reason to sign him. Had he suffered setbacks during the season, the risk levels would have gone up further — and Torres is already plenty risky. Avoiding play during the first half of the season meant less risk of a medical setback in the public eye. It won’t be easy for Torres to continue his NHL career beyond this year, but if he is healthy when he starts playing again, he’ll have a better chance at it.
The victim of the Torres hit, Silfverberg has played every regular season game so far this season for Anaheim. Though, as with many of the Ducks, it has not been a good season for the youngster.
It is likely that at least one NHL player will not benefit from this. I don’t know his name yet, but it’ll be the next guy Torres clocks with a major and illegal head shot. Is there really much doubt that it will happen again? Torres managed only about 150 NHL minutes in between suspensions, the equivalent of playing just 10 games.
The suspension was clearly directed towards one player with no message for anyone else. Can the rest of the NHL feel safer when only Torres’ headhunting matters to the DPS? It means every goon except Torres can operate under the old, insufficient rules. Which means the players themselves can expect the goonery to continue, with no end in sight. Which might be good for the goons, but it is not good for the players. Or the game.
NHL Players Emergency Fund
Where does the money go that would have been paid to Torres? It goes to the sole winner in this, the NHL Players Emergency Fund, which aids former players and player’s families who are having a difficult time. The fund could have benefited more, if not for the collective bargaining agreement defining Torres as a first time offender. The amount going to the NHL Players Emergency Fund is less than half of what it might have been had he been considered a repeat offender.
At the time of the hit, I wrote that the NHL should have ended Torres’ NHL career, that there was no need to risk another player’s safety again for this serial offender.
Every year, people do lists of the biggest and most important stories in various sports. Well, the biggest and most important story in the NHL is and will continue to be about concussions. The amount of money at stake is literally game changing. The NHL hasn’t taken head shots and concussions seriously. The courts will. For failing the players, the league will pay heavily. Banning Torres would have been a strong step in the right direction to show a seriousness that has been absent for far too long. Alas, the NHL underachieved. Again.