CHICAGO --This time, the NHL got it wrong.
I agreed with the league’s controversial no-punishment of Boston’s Zdeno Chara when he nailed Montreal’s Max Pacioretty into a stanchion. And I agreed when it assessed a three-game suspension to Tampa Bay’s Pavel Kubina for the hit to Dave Bolland which has kept the Chicago Blackhawks center out of action since early March.
Vancouver Canucks winger Raffi Torres deserved more than a slap on the wrist for his head shot on Brent Seabrook behind the Hawks net in Game 3 of the teams’ Western Conference quarterfinal series on Sunday night. The NHL decided on Monday there would be no further punishment for Torres after he received a two-minute penalty for interference.
"When Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) was unanimously adopted by the General Managers in March 2010, there was no intention to make this type of shoulder hit to the head illegal,” NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said in a statement. “In fact, at that time, we distributed a video to all players and teams that showed a similar hit on a defenseman by an attacking forward coming from the opposite direction behind the net and stated that this is a 'legal play'.
"This hit meets none of the criteria that would subject Torres to supplemental discipline, including an application of Rule 48: he did not charge his opponent or leave his feet to deliver this check. He did not deliver an elbow or extended forearm and this hit was not 'late'.”
So in other words, targeting the head of an opponent, as long as you follow the guidelines, is permissible under NHL rules. For a league that speaks seriously of reducing concussions this idea seems out of place.
Players can give good insight into these incidents since they’re the ones delivering the blows and serving the punishments, but usually they back their teammates, as most did in both dressing rooms Sunday and Monday.
But Patrick Sharp has been the rare player who speaks without bias. He defended Kubina’s hit on Bolland claiming, “He’s not that type of player,” and reiterating it was an accident several times. Reputation, more than anything else, plays into the thought process of other players. Torres doesn’t have a good one, at least not recently.
“Hits like [Torres’], I’m usually the first guy to give the guy the benefit of the doubt but in this situation I just look at the player making the hit and his intent,” Sharp said. “He played eight or nine minutes and I don’t think he touched the puck. He took a run at Brian Campbell earlier. Tried to hit him with an elbow. His job out there is to create big hits. He got a penalty so obviously it wasn’t a clean hit. I think it’s pretty clear what his intentions were.”
And we know the league takes this into account. Torres had just come off a four-game suspension for a similar hit and declared he wasn’t going to change his ways. The fact that Seabrook was skating in one direction while looking for the puck in the other seems to be the mitigating circumstance. How is a player supposed to receive a pass if he needs to be watching for head hunters in front of him instead of where the puck is coming from?
Seabrook, one of the toughest individuals in the league, said it right on Monday, “Drill me in the chest.” And that’s where the NHL got it wrong.
Intended head shots should be illegal no matter the circumstances. The game might be too fast for a referee to make that decision, but that’s what supplemental discipline is for.
The bottom line is if Torres’ hit was technically legal then he was lucky, because there was nothing “legal” about his intent. The league got it wrong and needs to change the rule, and soon.