Was no suspension for Canucks’ Raffi Torres the right call?

After yesterday’s disappointing 3-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, there are more things on the mind of the Blackhawks than just the loss.

In the video above, Canucks’ foward Raffi Torres, in his first game back from a four game suspension for illegal head contact on the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle, can be seen barreling shoulder-to-head into Blackhawks’ defenseman Brent Seabrook behind the Hawks’ net, causing the defensemen to “helicopter” in the air. The hit garnered Torres a two minute minor for interference. The hit has cultivated much debate over whether Torres violated the NHL’s Rule 48, which states:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

48.2 Minor Penalty – There is no provision for a minor penaltyfor this rule.

48.3 Major Penalty – For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).

48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.

Obviously the referees believed that this was a “hockey play”, and assessed what they thought was the correct call. As a hockey player myself, I can definitely see both sides of the story. Fans who have never played the game before (or at a checking level, at least) may not understand how fast the pace of the game moves. Torres was doing what he is being paid to do, and that is separate man from puck in order for his team to regain possession and score a goal. Also, this is the playoffs, so the physicality is amped up to its highest levels. Seabrook was put into the unfortunate position of having to chase the puck in “Death Valley” (as TSN’s Darren Dreger explains: the area behind the net where “…an unsuspecting defenceman or puck carrying forward hoping to make a play while cutting around the net – they can be vulnerable to the attacking player who’s approaching at full speed.”) and received the hit. What I saw was a player without his head up (which is the worst thing you can do if you play hockey) and an opposing player doing what he does best: taking the man off the puck. Torres did not have his elbow up, which deems it, in most people’s books, clean. TSN analyst Bob McKenzie explained via Twitter that there is more leeway for hits behind the net. According to McKenzie, when NHL general managers created Rule 48, the area behind the net was designated at as a “hitting zone”, and does not have to abide by the “north-south” style of hitting. Video of what are legal hits and illegal hits can be seen below in the NHL’s Official 2010-11 Rule Enforcement video.

However, what many fans and analysts did witness was a player who was coming off of a suspension for a similar situation, reciprocating exactly what the league disciplined him for. If Colin Campbell, the NHL’s principal disciplinarian, could throw the book at Matt Cooke and give him 10 games and the first round of the playoffs for a headshot, then he could do it for Torres, right? Apparently not. The NHL, in my opinion, has blurred the rules so much that no player really knows what’s legal and what isn’t. Was Torres supposed to carry a blow horn onto the ice and alert Seabrook of his presence, wait for Seabrook to notice he’s coming, and then hit him? Absolutely not. This is why every single controversial hit that happens seems to range from no disciplinary action to potentially 10-20 game suspensions. Campbell might as well be throwing darts at a board with random numbers assigned to it for all we care. The unfortunate timing of the hit is what caused so much outrage. Had the hit been given by a player like Mason Raymond, who is completely clean when it comes to discipline, would there be as much outrage? Not at all.

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Filed under blake pon, chicago blackhawks, hockey, sports

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