The National Hockey League Players’ Association has filed an appeal of the 25-game suspension handed to Phoenix forward Raffi Torres last month.
Torres was penalized during the Western Conference Quarterfinals for a late hit to the head of Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the series. Hossa did not return to the game or the series, which Phoenix won in six games.
As I thought they would, the League came down hard and heavy on Torres. 25 games is a massive suspension. After thinking about it for a fews days, Torres and the Players Association have decided to appeal.
There are really two reasons for this appeal. One is that this suspension is too heavy; nobody is suggesting that Torres should not be suspended, but even the more rabid “nuke him until he glows” believers seem to have trouble supporting this length of a ban. I’d suggested that the league would see Torres as a convenient target to make a statement, and it seems they did exactly that. I have trouble with 25 games off, even given Torres’ history of this kind of nasty hit.
The other reason to appeal this is Donald Fehr, the head of the players association. the CBA negotiations are coming up. Bargaining chips are useful. And what’s the appeal process here? It’s heard by Commissioner Bettman, who happens to be Brendan Shanahan’s boss. In baseball, it’s fairly common for an appeal to get a bit of time shaved off by Bud Selig. In the NHL, to my knowledge an appeal has never been upheld or a suspension modified. (and in baseball, appeals are routine; in the NHL, they are exceptionally rare. coincidence? no).
One can only imagine that the players association would love to see appeals be changed so it’s not strictly up to Bettman. A few media types suggested this should all go to arbitration, but there are reasons (a big one being need for timeliness) where that’s not a good option, but this suspension gives Fehr a chance to rattle the cage a bit and generate some talking points for the negotiation — even if it’s a demand for different appeal processes that gets given up as a concession along the way (which I’d say is likely if this is tried). So at the least, Shanahan has given the players association a small bargaining chip for the CBA talks.
And it’s possible this could turn into a headache for the league later if the PA chooses to make it one. I hope Shanahan and Bettman don’t regret making a statement here down the road.
And having said that — I’m troubled by this suspension. it’s excessive. I’m making no apologies for Torres, but given how Shanahan has been ruling this season, I’d say it really should have been 10-15 games, not 25. I expect the appeal to go nowhere. I expect the union to make noises about that. Torres will be unhappy (but I don’t care, he made this bed, and now gets to sleep in it for a long time, and so it’s hard to find any sympathy for him.
But what I want to see are clear deterrents to this kind of headhunting behavior, and the one thing this suspension is NOT is a deterrent, because unless you’re a player like Torres, you can see that this kind of ban hammer won’t happen to you. It does nothing to deal with the larger problem of players headhunting, and I think that’s a mistake. There was a middle ground they could have taken that would have made players take notice of the suspension. this isn’t that middle ground.
And that disappoints me, because the league punished a serious offender, but still isn’t doing enough to solve the problem.
I hate to be in Torres’ camp for this one, but I think the league over-reacted. And I don’t feel better for having predicted it…