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Saturday, April 21, 2012
Torres suspension good start

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

The NHL has gone all Matt Cooke on Raffi Torres, with the hope that the latter can clean up his act like the former did.

We'll see.

A year ago, Cooke was suspended for the last 10 regular-season games plus the first round of the playoffs for his elbow on the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, the latest in a long list of transgressions in Cooke's career.

It amounted to a 17-game suspension and a serious look in the mirror for Cooke. It became one of the best stories in the NHL this season. Cooke returned a different player, defying all expectations by staying out of Brendan Shanahan's office.

Heck, even in the zany Flyers-Penguins playoff series, Cooke is one of the few players who hasn't crossed the line.

"The league does their job, and as players we need to trust that they have everybody's best interest at hand. I've been there. It's not an easy situation," Cooke told ESPN.com's Scott Burnside on Saturday morning.

Do longer suspensions send stronger messages?

"Yeah. I think messages are sent through suspensions for sure. I guess it's how it's perceived," Cooke said.

Superstar Sidney Crosby suspected Cooke's suspension would act as a barometer.

"I kind of expected him to get pretty close to the rest of the playoffs," Crosby told reporters Saturday. " They came down pretty hard on Cookie, I think he ended up getting 17 last year, so I expected it to be around there."

It's clear that Shanahan viewed Torres just like his predecessor, Colin Campbell, viewed Cooke a year ago: a player whose repeated on-ice behavior was only going to change with a stiff suspension and loud message.

Shanahan, under fire in these playoffs for some of his decisions, delivered easily the longest suspension of his reign Saturday by dropping 25 games on Torres, who had three previous suspensions and two fines but, importantly in the league's view, was constantly getting into trouble for the same type of predatory hit that knocked out Marian Hossa in Game 3 last week.

"Senseless hit from a repeat offender," one NHL GM told ESPN.com Saturday before the decision was handed down.

"Late, left his feet and the principal point of contact was the head," said an NHL team executive. "This is the exact type of hit the league wants to eradicate. All the worse because a bottom-end forward delivered it to an elite player. The league will make an example out of Torres."

The league certainly did that. The 25 games, not by coincidence, amount to exactly the same number of games the Coyotes would play if all four of their playoff series went seven games following Torres' hit on Hossa. Message from the league: You're not playing in these playoffs.

Still, when the league announcement came out, both of the veteran hockey men quoted above were stunned at the severity of it.

"It was an easy guy to do it on. He's got a reputation. He's a checker. Don't forget, Shanny has been in the eye of the storm," one of them said.

You kind of had the feeling Shanahan was never going to win no matter what he decided on Torres. If he went too light, we'd be hammering him for continuing what has been an inconsistent spring for NHL supplemental discipline (see James Neal, 1 game; Shea Weber, no games; Nicklas Backstrom, 1 game).

By implementing a punishment this severe, the criticism is that Torres was the easy target; big whoop.

Personally, I certainly prefer the latter. Shanahan made the right call here. Never mind whether this sends a message to the 700 other players in the NHL. I doubt it does. It's meant to send a message to one player: Torres. And I think he got it loud and clear, just like Cooke did a year ago.

"I've coached Raffi … I think the NHL is just sick of it," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday morning after the skate. "They're tired of the [predatory] hits. I think they sent a clear message to everybody that they don't want any more of the [predatory] hits."

"Yeah, that's a message," Penguins center Jordan Staal said Saturday morning. "Again, we don't want to see those hits in the game. With a guy like that we've got to find a way to keep those hits out of the game. I guess it's not a bad thing."

"I'm pretty sure guys have started to pay attention, at least you hope they have," Crosby said. "In Torres' case, he's done that a few times. I think it's more sending a message to him than anything but I think, hopefully, at this point guys have got that message. If they haven't, this will make them realize it's a serious thing."

I don't think you're going to see longer suspensions for other players in these playoffs, not unless Cooke himself is involved. Saturday's massive suspension was about one player and one player alone -- one with a rap sheet.

Shanahan got this one right. But it doesn't put the genie back in the bottle. These have been violent, incident-filled playoffs. One massive suspension doesn't erase that.