There is throwing the book, and then there is launching the entire library, which is what the NHL has done at the Phoenix Coyotes' Raffi Torres.
The hard-hitting forward has been suspended for 25 games by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for his hit on Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa last Tuesday. It's believed to be the longest suspension to be handed out during the postseason.
Torres has already missed one game pending his suspension - which follows an hour-long meeting with Shanahan at the league office in Manhattan on Friday - the penalty will almost certainly carry over into next year even if the Coyotes win the Stanley Cup.
In a statement issued by the league office, Shanahan said that Torres broke three separate NHL rules and in laying out his reasons for hitting Torres with such a harsh punishment, cited several aggravating factors.
“First, this violent and dangerous hit caused a severe injury. Second, Torres not only is a repeat offender as defined by the CBA, his extensive Supplemental Discipline history consists mainly of acts very similar to this one – including two this season. Despite knowing that Hossa no longer has the puck, Torres decides to finish his check past the amount of time when Hossa is eligible to be bodychecked. That is a violation of the interference rule," he said. “While we acknowledge the circumstances of certain hits may cause a player’s skates to come off the ice, on this hit, Torres launches himself into the air before making contact. This is a violation of the charging rule. The position of Hossa’s head does not change just prior to or simultaneous with this hit. The onus, therefore, is on Torres not to make it the principal point of contact. By leaping, Torres makes Hossa’s head the principal point of contact. That is a violation of the illegal check to the head rule.”
For his part, Torres issued the following statement: “My main concern is for the healthy recovery of Marian Hossa, and I hope that he will be able to get back on the ice to compete again soon. I sincerely regret injuring Marian.
"Regarding the severity of the suspension issued, I will take the next few days to decide whether or not to appeal the decision.”
Reaction in the hockey world was swift - several players and coaches hailed the message Torres's suspension conveys.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are no strangers to lengthy suspensions meant to convey a message from the NHL’s head office.
Forward Matt Cooke is the league’s most famous reformation project, having come back from a 17-game suspension last season that kept him out of the playoffs to mend his head-hunting ways.
Cooke was a notorious repeat offender when Shanahan’s predecessor, Colin Campbell, came down hard on him for an elbow to the head of the New York Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh. Since then, however, he has not committed an infraction serious enough to warrant Shanahan’s attention and even stayed out of trouble during the contentious Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers playoff series.
“The league does their job, and as players we need to trust that they have everybody's best interest at hand. I've been there. It's not an easy situation,” Cooke told ESPN.com's Scott Burnside. “Yeah, I think messages are sent through suspensions for sure. I guess it's how it's perceived.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said he wasn’t surprised at the length of Torres’s suspension.
“They came down pretty hard on Cookie, so I expected it to be around there,” he said. “I’m pretty sure guys have started to pay attention, at least you hope they have.
“In Torres’s case, he’s done that a few times. I think it’s more sending a message to him than anything but I think hopefully at this point guys have got that message.”
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma has no doubt there is a lot of sober reflection going on around the NHL this weekend.
“I think it’s going to be probably the most talked-about thing throughout the locker rooms today,” he said after Saturday’s practice. “I think the amount of the games is a big statement. I think it will have an effect, not only on Torres in that situation, it will have an effect throughout the league about that type of hit and that type of play not being part of our game.”
Centre Jordan Staal, who was leading the NHL playoff points race before Saturday’s games, said, “Yeah, that’s a message. We don’t want to see those hits in the game. With a guy like that, we have to find a way to keep those hits out of the game. It’s not a bad thing.” Torres has now been suspended three times and fined once in the past 12 months for dangerous and reckless hits, hammered Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa with a late hit in a game this past week.
Hossa, who didn't see the blow coming, was briefly hospitalized and is out indefinitely.
Torres fairly leaped into the contact, as he has done on several previous occasions.
The punishment this time surpasses the 21 games doled out to former Washington Capital Dale Hunter in 1993 when he hit the Islanders' Pierre Turgeon as he celebrated a series-winning goal.
The sanction is far and away the stiffest to be handed out this season, and comes on the heels of strident criticism of Shanahan for what several teams and pundits have complained is inconsistency in his rulings.