The Ban Hammer has descended on Raffi Torres, and the result is a 25 game suspension.
That’s a lot. A lot more than I expected and I don’t know of a pundit that predicted that big a ban, but when you watch the league’s explanation, it makes sense.
Note that “makes sense” is not the same as “is correct”. I have mixed feelings about this. I expected the league to over-react, but even my thought of what “over-react” might be didn’t reach 25 games.
And yet the reality is that Torres is an unrepentant cement head who’s thrown elbows at heads for years, been yelled at for that for years, suspended for that more than once, and still does it and wonders why people get upset.
So out comes the league equivalent of the “three strikes” rule.
I don’t have a problem with that. Torres was a problem that needed to be taken off ice until the league is convinced he’s actually figured out why pulping people’s heads is a bad idea. If he can’t figure that out, he needs to be removed from the league permanently.
I guess my mixed feelings aren’t so much about this decision (good riddance), but that it’s decision that won’t inhibit this behavior with other players. This is clearly a strategic strike at an individual that’s proven themselves to be harmful to the game. It won’t be a deterrent to anyone else.
So I guess my response to this is to look back at the larger issue; we still need ways to convince players to take the safety of opponents seriously — the “R”expect factor — and this doesn’t move that forward. My core feeling on that is simple: current penalties aren’t severe enough, and if it were up to me, they’d all be doubled effective tomorrow. Taking care of this acute problem was necessary. The League hasn’t gone far enough in addressing the chronic problem that leads to players like Torres getting stupid enough to earn such a lengthy vacation…
Will they? I think they will, over time. Too slowly for my taste, but the politics of this problem are severe and complex, because while the people of influence who belong to the Church of Don Cherry are not as influential as they once were, they still impact these decisions. And we can’t forget the core of it all: we can’t screw up the game of hockey in the name of improving it.
I can’t build any sympathy for Torres here, as severe as the penalty is. He ultimately earned this.
I just don’t think it solves the real problem. Just scratches the itch.
A common thought popped up in the comments when I posted about this a few days ago: should the NHL use how long an injured player is out as the basis for the length of a suspension?
This one’s a bit of a tough call. I’m firmly in the camp that feels intent should be the primary piece of evidence, not the severity of the injury. The NHL has made it clear, however, that injury (or lack of it) and severity of the injury are factored into the suspension now. (let me make this clear: I feel this is a big mistake, and the NHL will regret it). Having taken that step, do you take the next and tie it to how long a player is out?
I hate that idea. There are so many factors out of the control of the player causing the injury — simple ones, like “does this player heal more quickly than that player?” to really complex ones like a player’s injury history; ignoring heads for a second, if I were a defenseman who low-bridges a player and tears his ACL, should I be suspended longer if that player had previously torn that ACL three times and was now facing major reconstructive surgery and seven months of rehab instead of a scope and six weeks?
That is, at its core, the argument why factoring in injury (instead of intent)? Should I, as a player, get a lighter suspension because the player I attacked was good at ducking and only hurt a little instead of as badly as I intended? but that’s what the NHL is doing.
Let’s not even get started on the issue of team doctors fudging the data or a team quietly holding a player out longer because it impacts a key player on the opposition? (if you don’t think that would happen, you’re wonderfully naive). This opens up a can of worms nobody should want the league fighting with itself over.
With concussions, the more a player gets concussed, the more severe future concussions tend to be and the longer they take to go away. Is that something a suspended player should be held accountable for?
My answer is no. But then, my answer is that the rules and suspensions need to be crafted so that we shouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place, that second and third concussions are incredibly rare in the league. we’re not there yet.
I wrote my general philosophy on this topic about five years ago, and it hasn’t changed:
At some point, we DO have to remember that hockey is a physical and violent sport. Injuries are part of the game, and they’re going to happen. You have to legislate and referee the game for the safety of the players. You also have to realize that if you legislate and referee the game to GUARANTEE no injuries, what you have isn’t the hockey game we know and love today (you have rec-league no-touch hockey, or ringette or curling). A player who’s had concussions has to understand the risks of going out and playing again, and take on responsibility for some of that risk. it’s the League’s responsibility to make sure that players play in a safe environment for the typical player; it’s an individual’s responsibility to know whether their personal situation is safe enough under those conditions. [….] The one person who has no responsibility there is the person doing the hitting. If it’s a clean hit by the rules of the league, he shouldn’t have to worry about what players he should hold back on. It’s up to the player to be able and willing to take that kind of hit (and/or risk the side effects of it happening…).
It is critical that the league set rules that make sure legal hits are not dangerous hits. they’ve made progress here, but it’s still far from perfect (because it’s a complex, difficult set of tradeoffs, and in some cases, we don’t know — the amount of knowledge we’ve gained on concussions in the last ten years is both stunning and scary; what do we still don’t know?). It is also critical to remember that the things we’re dealing with — the big, physical plays and hits — are a core aspect of hockey, and we run the risk of screwing up or destroying the game if the rules aren’t thought through carefully and implemented well. Fans don’t stop to think about that aspect, but fortunately, the league does. That’s why I continue to cut them slack as they struggle to find the right set of compromises here.