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(Jonathan Daniel/2011 Getty Images)
(Jonathan Daniel/2011 Getty Images)

Should the NHL suspend Raffi Torres? Add to ...

Vancouver Canucks forward Raffi Torres's hit on Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook Sunday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarter-finals has once again brought the issue of hits to the head in the National Hockey League front and centre, this time during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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We asked our Globe team of hockey writers to offer their opinion on the hit and whether or not the league should suspend Torres.

SEAN GORDON

There was something striking about Torres's expression after he lowered the boom on Seabrook - genuine disbelief, he truly couldn't fathom what he'd done wrong.

So in the interests of public service, let's explain to him why the league is about to suspend him for the second time in two weeks (or given the NHL's wacky disciplinary record, why they should but may not).

It comes down to the word defenceless.

Seabrook clearly had his head turned, the puck was gone (and since when is merely touching the puck considered possessing it? We digress).

In the new world order, thumping guys when they're in that position, even if Torres may argue that he didn't target the head, is a no-no.

As ever in these cases, Torres had the option to let up, and chose otherwise.

But really dear Raffi is going to sit, likely for a couple of games, for the crime of being a bit thick.

Yes, it's playoffs. Yes, things happen fast. Yes, the Canucks hate Seabrook, Keith, et al. Yes, Seabrook has to protect himself better and understand that dangers lurk in that part of the ice.

But you can't make that hit in that circumstance, especially when you're a big dummy who clearly didn't get the message five games ago when you cranked another player in the noggin while he was in a vulnerable position near the net.

Call it hockey Darwinism: evolve or watch your career die out, Raffi.

ROY MACGREGOR

Technically, it's loaded with complication. It took place behind the net, where all hits are deemed to be "north south" no matter if they came out of the sky or up from the cooling pipes. So it isn't "blindside." That's one out. Also, it wasn't given the sort of penalty - I believe it was "interference" - that suggests anything worse than shoplifting a candy. And finally, his coach, Alain Vigneault, argues it shouldn't even have been a penalty.

However, let's look at this strategically rather than technically. The NHL has other tools than Rule 48, for heaven's sake. There's varieties of "intent to injure" transgressions that are rarely, if ever called. And there's the very simple fact that it was, without argument, a hit to the head. And Raffi Torres is the Western Conference's Matt Cooke, a serial hitter just back from another suspension.

He will get suspended. I'd like to see at least four games. If the NHL elects to do nothing, strategically they will have failed to send out exactly the right signal for exactly the right time. The playoffs have just started. It's the simplest thing in the world to act today and take headshots of all kinds out of the playoffs.

JAMES MIRTLE

How's this for some more grey area introduced to the conversation?

The NHL's video package of what hits are illegal or legal under its blindside hit rule has one dedicated to a head check behind the net (at the four minute mark) and it falls into the legal side of things.

The play is certainly different, as defenceman Mark Eaton has the puck and is facing the direction he's going before being hit high, but it does highlight one important point.

Hits to the head remain legal in the NHL.

Even Scott Stevens's famous blow on Eric Lindros is in the video as a "legal" hit, one of the nearly career-ending variety.

That's not to say that Torres shouldn't be suspended - only that it's really not clear what rule he's being suspended under. And that's a real problem.

Is the fact a player has his head turned enough to make this a blindside play? Was the head "the principle point of contact" or not?

Ask Daniel Sedin.

"What's wrong, what's right?" he asked the Vancouver Province after the game. "We don't know, you don't know and I don't know if the refs know."

ALLAN MAKI

People are making this out to be something more intricate than it is.

Was Chicago Blackhawks' defenceman Brent Seabrook blindsided by Vancouver Canucks' forward Raffi Torres? Yes. Was Seabrook struck in the head? Yes. Does Torres, who was in his first game back from a previous suspension, deserve to be punished? Yes.

Yet somehow we have hockey observers from every perspective analyzing whether the Torres hit was a clear violation of Rule 48 or something that falls between the cracks.

Let's cut to the basics: a defenseless player was hit in the head. That's worthy of a suspension, no matter how you try to argue intent, rules and precedents.

DAVID SHOALTS

Loath as I am to admit this, under the NHL's current rules and approach to such plays, even a serial offender like Raffi Torres should get a pass on this.

As Mr. Mirtle points out, hits to the head remain legal in certain situations. And this, under the strict definition of rule 48, may not be a strictly north-south hit but it was only a blindside hit because Brent Seabrook had his head down. The presence of the puck also calls into question why the Vancouver Canucks forward was given an interference penalty. The puck was there. Even if a player does not have possession of the puck for a couple seconds it does not mean he is not part of the play. Seabrook was chasing the puck and it was there when Torres laid him out, so I don't see how interference can be called.

We can scream in outrage all we want about the play - and I'll admit it was a cheap shot - but that does not mean it is punishable under the NHL's rules. Even the intent-to-injure rule - admittedly an under-used one - is tough to apply here. Torres's feet were not churning, so it's hard to argue he was chasing down Seabrook with a vengeance.

You want a suspension? Get the NHL to do the right thing and make all hits to the head illegal.



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