Revisiting dirty hockey play: aftermath of the Raffi Torres suspension

Shortly after the incident occurred, I wrote a piece about the Raffi Torres suspension for an illegal and dangerous hit in preseason play on Jakob Silfverberg of the Anaheim Ducks.

I looked up what happened to Torres since then. It’s not much of a suprise, really. He was assigned to the AHL affiliate the San Jose Barracuda on a conditioning loan, and then traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with two draft picks in exchange for two players, Roman Polak and Nick Spaling. According to Rotoworld, Torres is done for the season after undergoing a medical procedure possibly related to his past knee injuries.

I don’t wish injury or illness on anyone. That isn’t who I am today. But the facts speak for themselves, and it is rather oddly fitting that a player who has engaged in reckless hits that have injured other players in the past is now missing time himself due to injuries, and now will have missed two entire regular seasons due to a combination of injuries and suspensions. Call it karma, fate, poetic justice, or whatever you want.

While Torres did play six games in the AHL before hanging it up for the season, it’s quite possible that nasty hit on Jakob Silfverberg will be Torres’s last NHL appearance. My hope is that players new to the NHL get a chance to learn from Torres’s mistakes, and what happens when one keeps disregarding the rules and the safety of other players, and thus acquires a reputation as a habitually dangerous player.

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.

One hockey season, hold the bananas

Racism takes many forms. I had honestly hoped that we’d see an end to the rather stupid and juvenile throwing of bananas onto the field as a racist statement against (primarily) athletes of African descent and/or with darker skin. If you haven’t heard much about it, it’s because mainly it happens in soccer games outside the US and Canada.

And until recently, exclusively in such games, but alas, that’s no longer the case. reported on the incident which occured in London, Ontario, Canada, during a preseason game between the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers, where Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds was targeted by a banana or a banana peel thrown on the ice at him. The COO of the Flyers owners made his statement based exclusively on the player safety issue, referring only to “an object [thrown] onto the ice” in a statement. This was followed up by this official statement from NHL Comissioner which makes even more cursory reference to what actually happened, only denouncing it as an “obviously stupid and ignorant action” which “is in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.”

I prefer to call it what it is: flagrant racism that has no place in any sport, certainly not profesional hockey in North America. It is most unfortunate that the guilty party was not identified. I hope this person is found, and barred from further attendance of hockey games anywhere in the NHL. The consequences for flagrant hate speech which has the additional effect of endangering players need to be severe, lest this kind of hooliganism become commonplace across the US and Canada.

Orange ball, red ink: the NBA’s surprising financial losses

David Nelson’s recent blog entry addressed a rather surprising revelation by David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Commissioner Stern says that the NBA lost $370 million last season, and has lost $200 million in each of the prior 4 seasons. This adds up to well over $1 billion in losses over the past five seasons.

David Nelson is, of course, writing from the perspective of a Seattle resident, and thus includes a less-than-flattering reference to the Oklahoma City Thunder (which were formerly the Seattle Supersonics). David also makes reference to the possibility of an NBA lockout on or about 2011 July 01 should no new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) be reached, which is echoed in this story printed in USA Today.

This is a scary thought for sports fans with relatively fresh memories of the NHL’s lockout which resulted in the cancellation of a full season (the 2004-05 season), as well as the NBA’s abbreviated 1998-99 season which was also due to a lockout.

To say it would be unfortunate to lose even part of the 2011-12 NBA season would be an understatement. We should remember a large part of reason the NHL lost a whole season, however, was the stubborn refusal of the NHLPA to believe that the owners were telling the truth about how much money was being lost. And no offense intended to hockey fans or players, but I’d like to think NBA players are smart enough to reach a reasonable agreement.

I understand the frustrations of some of the public, basketball fans or not, who take a very dim view of two rival groups of millionaires squabbling (and I say this as public perception, even though a number of rookie NBA players do not qualify as millionaires in the strict sense). I think it is unfortunate that these types of labor disputes happen, but they happen everywhere; it’s just that in professional sports, they get much more publicity due to the large fan base.