That daffy Raffi Torres couldn’t have picked a worse time to do a stupid thing.
With the NHL reeling over head shots and dangerous play, Torres’s crumpling of Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa made for the easiest of decisions: punish the Phoenix Coyotes forward for 25 games, then dare anyone to say the league buried its head in an ice bucket on this one.
But whether NHL vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan will come down as hard on star players who err on the side of violence is a whole other matter.
The majority of suspensions this postseason have gone to secondary players – Arron Asham of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Matt Carkner of the Ottawa Senators, Byron Bitz of the Vancouver Canucks. Given the chance to make an example of a higher grade of player – such as Pittsburgh forward James Neal and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators – the best Shanahan could produce was a one-game suspension and a $2,500 (U.S.) fine.
“If he could, I think Shanahan would give himself a mulligan on [the Weber fine]” one team source said.
Weber was fined a similar amount during the regular season for a boarding penalty. That meant when he grabbed the head of Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg and rammed it off the glass in their opening playoff game, Weber was technically a repeat offender. But Shanahan figured that since the game was virtually over at that point, and Zetterberg wasn’t hurt, a fine would suffice.
It proved to be the wrong call. Other players took notice and decided it was pretty much open season.
Star players such as Weber have always received special consideration when it comes to discipline. Try thinking of one of the game’s best players being sidelined for any meaningful length of time in the playoffs, and aside from Maurice (Rocket) Richard getting the hook by then president Clarence Campbell, who are we talking about? Dale Hunter’s 21-game suspension for shoulder blasting Pierre Turgeon in 1993 is as close as you can get, and even then you could successfully argue, “A good player, sure. But was Hunter that much of a star?”
It’s true: The game’s top players don’t usually find themselves bound for disciplinary hearings. But there are those with an edge to their game who have deserved greater punishment and managed to avoid it. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals drew a three-game suspension last January for charging Zbynek Michalek of the Penguins. If Ovechkin does the same thing again (or worse) in the postseason, will he sit out three or more games? This is the same league, after all, that didn’t suspended Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara for running Max Pacioretty’s head into a stanchion at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The NHL looked into the play and decided no supplementary discipline was necessary.
What history has shown is that the NHL, when it acts, acts toughest on those who make it simple to mete out justice. Thirty games for Chris Simon? In a heartbeat. Ten games plus the playoffs for Matt Cooke? About time someone noticed. The rest of the season for Todd Bertuzzi? He ended up sitting just 20 games because the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run ended in seven games. All that for ending Steve Moore’s career.
So as many applaud the NHL for doing the right thing and banishing the malevolent Torres, let’s hope the message has got through and that the players can finish a competitive game without someone being carted off the ice on a stretcher. But if it happens again, and it’s Claude Giroux or Jonathan Toews caught in the headlights, then we’ll see the true depth of the NHL’s conviction.
And if it really means business.