Cleaning up dirty hockey play: in re Raffi Torres

I realize this one’s a little late, but I had to do some research to make sure all my facts were correct. (I’d rather be late with no or minor inaccuracies, than on time or early with a major goof.)

Among many other media outlets, ESPN and SportsNet both reported on the suspension of San Jose Sharks Raffi Torres. For those of you who do not follow hockey, here is a partial history of Torres and his hits like the one he was most recently disciplined for (name of team Torres was playing for at the time of each incident in parentheses after the date):

  • 2007-10-20 (Edmonton Oilers) – Illegal hit on David Moss of the Calgary Flames. Torres fined maximum allowed under the CBA, $2,500.
  • 2009-03-29 (Columbus Blue Jackets) – Illegal hit on Patrik Berglund of the St. Louis Blues. Torres penalized two minutes for interference, no fine or suspension.
  • 2011-04-05 (Vancouver Canucks) – Illegal hit on Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers. Torres supended for four games, two of which wound up being playoff games.
  • 2011-12-31 (Phoenix Coyotes) – Illegal hit on Nate Prosser of the Minnesota Wild. No penalty during game, Torres suspended for two games after league review.
  • 2012-04-17 (Phoenix Coyotes) – Illegal hit on Marian Hossa during a playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. No penalty called during game but Torres receives what is at first an indefinite suspension later set at 25 games, then reduced to 21 games on appeal.
  • 2013-??-?? (San Jose Sharks) – Illegal hit on Jarret Stoll during a playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. During the game, Torres only received a minor penalty for charging, but would be suspended for the remainder of the series after a review by the league.

(There were also two other incidents where Torres was fined but not suspended; I was unable to locate details of those at the time of this writing. There are also three similar incidents where Torres was only warned, probably before the first incident in this list on 2007-10-20.)

Torres will lose $440,860.29 in salary for those 41 games. About the only way the NHL’s Department of Player Safety may have screwed up here is by not making the suspension long enough. Personally, I’d like to think 41 games is plenty, but then again 21 games should have been enough the time before.

Were I making the decision I would have also have stated that due to his history, Torres is subject to a probationary period when his suspension is over, for a minimum of the remainder of this season (2015-2016) and the entirety of the two seasons following (2016-2017 and 2017-2018), or possibly even the rest of his career. During that time, if Torres were to commit any egregious violation of NHL rules which jeopardize player safety (not limited to a charge or illegal check to the head), it would be cause for an immediate lifetime ban from the NHL and the onus would be on Torres to show cause why he should not be banned from the NHL for life.

There’s just no place for this kind of reckless garbage hit in professional hockey. Targeting the head is dangerous and can injure players (as we saw with Marian Hossa). I realize the NHL has only ever banned one other player for life, that being Billy Coutu (pronounced “Kouchee” according to the Wikipedia article) and he was eventually reinstated some years later (after he was too old to actually play in the NHL again).

Seriously, how many times does the NHL have to tell a player not to do something because it’s against the rules and a danger to the other players? If Torres can’t change his ways (and apparently he can’t), he shouldn’t be allowed to keep playing professional hockey. Maybe he should switch over to MMA or kickboxing.