The NHL took a newly creative approach to supplementary discipline by suspending San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres for anywhere between three and six games as a result of an illegal check to the head of the Los Angeles Kings’ centre Jarret Stoll, but it may also have opened up a CBA can of worms because of its ruling.
Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, determined that Torres was guilty of violating NHL rule 48.1 – the illegal check to the head rule – and suspended him for the duration of the series against the Kings.
Since the Kings held a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semi-finals heading into Thursday night’s second game of the series, it left the length of the Torres suspension undetermined – as few as three if the Kings sweep or as many as six if it goes the distance.
On one level, Shanahan’s ruling permits the punishment to fit the crime because it punishes the Sharks, in the here and now, against a current playoff opponent.
Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter implied that Stoll’s injury will likely keep him out for the series; this decision means Torres cannot come back and help the Sharks win the series either.
Procedurally under the new CBA, a player’s appeal first goes to the commissioner. Contrary to what has been widely reported, there is no a games limit on appeals to the commissioner.
Players have 48 hours to make that appeal in writing.
According to the CBA, the commissioner must “endeavor to hear all appeals on an expedited basis.” If the commissioner’s ruling is for six or more games, the player then has seven days to file an appeal with the neutral discipline arbitrator “who shall have full remedial authority in respect of the matter.”
Currently, as the two sides continue to hammer out the language of the new CBA, there is no neutral discipline arbitrator in place.
On Twitter, player agent Allan Walsh called the decision a “gutless attempt to avoid appeal by neutral body.”
In announcing the suspension, Shanahan said he based his decision on three factors: That the primary - but not necessarily the first point of contact – was between Torres’s shoulder and Stoll’s head; that Stoll was injured on the play; and that Torres was a repeat offender, who had previously been suspended three other times by the league for illegal acts.
“Rather than hit Stoll through the core of his body, Torres takes a route that makes Stoll’s head the principal point of contact,” said Shanahan, who went to acknowledge: “Although we’d agree Torres might make initial contact with Stoll’s shoulder that is a glancing blow.”
Shanahan also conceded that while Torres “never leaps into Stoll nor uses his elbow in the hit,” the former was responsible for taking “a different route to the puck carrier” that would permit him to “hit through the core of the body.”
The CBA will also specify that “as a general rule, a player who is suspended shall serve a specific number of games” – which Torres’s suspension doesn’t. However, an NHL source suggested: “That’s precisely why it says ‘as a general matter.’ Language permits creativity.”