Philadelphia, PA – If the punishment Brendan Shanahan levied against San Jose's Raffi Torres was designed to send a message, the only one that came across is life isn't fair if you are a hockey player named Raffi Torres.
Torres was banned for the remainder of the Western Conference semifinals after delivering a crushing hit to Los Angeles forward Jarret Stoll in San Jose's Game 1 loss. The suspension means Torres, who already sat out his team's Game 2 loss on Thursday, could be out for anywhere from three to six games, depending on how long the series lasts.
The hit itself wasn't the worst of these NHL playoffs, but Shanahan's suspension treated it as such and his decision could drastically alter the course of this series.
One of the reasons the NHL's disciplinarian threw the book at Torres in this case is that Stoll was injured on the play and could miss considerable time with what is rumored to be a concussion. Of course, an even bigger reason to hand out this type of rare, open-ended suspension is because Torres is an easy target.
Although Shanahan is the man in charge of player safety, a task that I don't believe he takes lightly, his latest decision smacks of a man taking the easy way out. A concussion happened as a result of a hit by a player with a dirty past, so it's easier to make an example of him than to make the tough call and do nothing. Interestingly, Shanahan seems to have no problem doing nothing when a star player is the one delivering the dirty hit in the playoffs and not a two-way grinder like Torres.
The harsh truth is that sometimes serious injuries happen because hockey is a violent sport, and there isn't always a villain to blame.
To be fair, Torres has earned his bad reputation. You only need to look at last year's postseason and watch the dirty hit he delivered on Chicago's Marian Hossa to know why.
Torres, who was with Phoenix at the time, paid for said hit with a 25-game suspension. Although the ban was eventually reduced to 21 games as a result of an appeal, it still caused him to sit out the first eight games of this regular season and also gave him plenty of time to think.
During his banishment from hockey, Torres expressed regret about the way he had played the game in the past. He said he was going to change how he approached things on the ice and for the most part, it seemed like he was able to implement those alterations.
In 39 combined games with the Coyotes and Sharks during the regular season, Torres logged just 17 minutes of penalty time and he had only four minutes in 11 games following the trade to San Jose. Torres' first two penalty minutes of the playoffs came for the infamous charge against Stoll in Game 1.
However, Torres obviously hasn't convinced Shanahan of his desire to change and maybe that's part of his job as the NHL's director of player safety. After all, the collective bargaining agreement allowed the league to label players as "repeat offenders" and with three suspension prior to his most recent one, Torres falls into that category.
The distinction allows the league to hand out bigger penalties for certain players, but in this particular case it simply made it easier for Shanahan to single out Torres for past crimes instead of focusing on the one in front of him.
In case you haven't seen the hit, video of the play along with Shanahan's explanation regarding the punishment can be found at http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=671025&navid=nhl:topheads
While it's unfortunate Stoll was injured on this play, Shanahan places zero blame for the collision on the Kings forward. This is in spite of the fact that Stoll is leaning forward to try to play a bouncing puck, leaving himself in a prone position. That doesn't give Torres liberty to hit Stoll anyway he chooses, but to act like Stoll's lunging stance had nothing to do with the way the play turned out is ridiculous.
Shanahan takes this misguided line of thinking a step further, blaming Torres for making the head the main focus of his hit while simultaneously labeling Stoll's shoulder as the actual principal point of contact.
"Rather than hit Stoll through the core of his body, Torres take a route that makes Stoll's head the principal point of contact. Although we agree that Torres might make initial contact with Stoll's shoulder, that is a glancing blow. In fact, the head is the principal point of contact."
After the game, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun that he didn't even think the play was worthy of a charging penalty and Torres echoed that sentiment.
"They called it charging," Torres told Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area. "I don't think I launched myself. I took a step and a half, and glided into him.
"Obviously, he was leaning over, and I still feel like I got a shoulder to his shoulder, and then it kind of looked because he was leaning over that I came up a little high. I didn't even think it was going to be a penalty, but I hope he's all right."
Of course, the Kings stood up for their own player. Head coach Darryl Sutter called the hit "careless" but only could point to Stoll's injury as the reason he thought so. One wonders what Sutter would be saying if his captain Dustin Brown or one of the team's other players with a penchant for rough play was given the same treatment by Shanahan for a similar hit? My guess is he would sound a lot like McLellan did when he defended Torres.
Nobody is going to say Shanahan has an easy job. Trying to hand out the right punishments for on-ice behavior in an era when the league is trying to eliminate deliberate head-shots can be a thankless task, and as a former player Shanahan clearly takes his job seriously.
In this case, however, he saw an opportunity to make an example out of a player because he was unpopular. Unfortunately for the Sharks, the outcome of a series may have been altered in the process.