The accused strode purposefully up Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan shortly before 1 p.m., wearing a smart brown suit and a stony expression.
And when Raffi Torres emerged more than an hour later – after his audience with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan and a brief game of cat-and-mouse with the media waiting outside – the man with a history of doing very stupid things on the ice did a wise and sensible thing: He said nothing.
Feelings toward Torres tend to depend on geography – the anger rises as you get closer to Chicago – and if he is already convicted in the minds of the publics, the Ontario-born forward, often described as “the human bowling ball,” will have to wait until Saturday before he learns of his punishment.
Let us go out on a limb here: It will be the longest in a good long while, if only because the 30-year-old, who has been suspended indefinitely while he awaits a ruling, is a repeat offender and a thoroughly expendable type of player.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who was in the stands when Torres laid his devastating late hit on Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa last week, wouldn’t venture a guess on what discipline awaits the Phoenix Coyotes forward.
But he did tell a meeting of The Associated Press Sports Editors in New York that “I have pretty high confidence in Brendan Shanahan,” adding many of the complaints the league has received from teams about inconsistent disciplinary measures are “gamesmanship.”
“I have confidence in the people that are doing it, even though they’re under intense scrutiny and criticism from both sides,” Bettman said. “For everybody who says it’s too much, there are people who say it’s too little. For everybody who doesn’t like a particular judgment, they say they’re being inconsistent.”
There will, of course, be considerable scrutiny on this decision.
In the immediate aftermath of the hit, which saw him leap into the contact, Torres described it as “a hockey play” – which didn’t sit well with ’Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who earlier this week said: “There’s no remorse at all I don’t think with a guy like that. [There was]a guy carried off on a stretcher and he probably doesn’t feel bad about it all.”
Torres also hit Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook last year, a questionable incident that went unpunished.
The Coyotes, of course, hold a far higher opinion of Torres, who was playing nearly 19 minutes a game before he was suspended, and would like to see him return.
“He’s been a good player in the series for us,” Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said.
It’s highly doubtful Torres, who has now been suspended three times and fined once in the past 12 months, will suffer the penalty imposed on Boston Bruins defenceman Billy Coutu in the late 1920s. (Coutu was suspended from the NHL for life after attacking two referees and starting a brawl in a playoff game.)
But no one should be surprised if it is among the stiffest since the 11 games Toronto Maple Leafs winger Tie Domi got in 2001 for elbowing New Jersey Devils blueliner Scott Niedermayer in the head.
The NHL has a history of doling out long suspensions in the playoffs. In 1989, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ron Hextall got 12 games for attacking Montreal Canadiens defenceman Chris Chelios in a Game 6 loss in a conference final. In 1993, Dale Hunter of the Washington Capitals got 21 games for destroying Pierre Turgeon’s shoulder as he celebrated the New York Islanders’ series-clinching goal.
The longest suspension to this point in the 2012 playoffs was doled out to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Aaron Asham, who got four games for cross-checking Philadelphia Flyers centre Brayden Schenn in the face.
Torres, who was accompanied by Coyotes general manager Don Maloney and representatives from the NHL Players’ Association at his hearing Friday, should expect harsher treatment.
If it can be said of playoff rookies that it takes a little while for them to find their feet in the postseason. Perhaps the same is true of rookie discipline chiefs – although this one should be a confidence-boosting empty-netter for Sheriff Shanny.
With a report from The Associated Press