When NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan sits down with his latest perp on Friday to mete out the ninth suspension of these young playoffs, it’s not as if he’ll have a detailed roadmap to work from.
Not in a league where almost all the precedents are outdated, and most hits to the head were, until recently, legal.
As has been the case throughout his first year on the job, Shanahan theoretically has to blaze a trail and set new standards, even as 30 general managers, their owners and commissioner Gary Bettman look over his shoulder.
And there’s no pleasing everyone.
When it comes to Phoenix Coyotes hit man Raffi Torres, who sent a Chicago Blackhawks star briefly to hospital on Tuesday night, Shanahan’s verdict will be judged by two very different factions.
The push from many in the media and a large segment of the fan base is already for a mammoth, message-sending ban of 20-plus games.
The reality is Torres will likely sit for, at most, half that, even though as a repeat offender who’s not a star, he is one of the easiest targets in the league.
Consider the history involved and the men in charge.
The NHL has given out only 24 suspensions in history that have stretched beyond 10 regular-season or playoff games, a list filled with notorious incidents involving Marty McSorley (stick swing to the forehead), Todd Bertuzzi (crippling Steve Moore in an eight-year-old case still making its way through the courts) and Dale Hunter (separating Pierre Turgeon’s shoulder after he scored a playoff goal).
Absent are the likes of the classic big, late hitters like Scott Stevens – the predecessors of “just finishing my check” types like Torres who hit to hurt.
Even since the 2004-05 lockout, when the league finally began to become more sensitive to blows to the head, there have been only two suspensions for these hits that stretched beyond 10 games.
One 20-game ban went to rookie Steve Downie in the 2007 preseason for an egregious flying bodycheck to the head that concussed Ottawa Senators veteran Dean McAmmond.
The other went to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Matt Cooke last spring, taking him out of the final 10 games of the season and the rest of the playoffs after an elbow to the head of young New York Rangers defenceman Ryan McDonagh.
(A man of many suspensions, Cooke has been one of the few players to ever get the message, too, as he finally stayed out of trouble under the new regime this season.)
The longest suspension Shanahan has given out in his new role was 12 games – four in the preseason and eight to start the regular season – to Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman James Wisniewski.
That was only the third suspension he had handed down, but it was enough to make GMs queasy, especially after Columbus lost all eight games without their $33-million free agent.
“Shanny was ordered to tone it down,” one source said.
Wisniewski’s crime? An elbow to the face of a player who never had the puck after the final horn had sounded in a preseason game.
So Torres’s hit – while late and high like too many others – is not even the ugliest incident this season, even if it did occur at the worst time possible for a player with so many priors.
The national spotlight is on the NHL right now in the United States, and images of Marian Hossa on a stretcher have been displayed prominently in one of that country’s largest media markets.
By the league’s definition, that means Torres will be hit hard.
By many others’ definition, history tells us it won’t be hard enough.