Fed Up With the NHL Department of Player Safety

First things first, let’s get biases out of the way. Yes, yours truly is a San Jose Sharks fan. That said, when it comes to Raffi Torres, the bias works in both directions. A few years back Torres delivered this dirty hit to one of my favorite players Milan Michalek (In fact, I still own his jersey). But after hearing of his reformed ways with Phoenix early in 2012-13 and watching his reformed ways first hand in San Jose after last year’s trade deadline, I have to admit that Torres, (like Minnesota Wild’s Matt Cooke), has clearly changed his game.

Now while Torres has a long history of dangerous hits, I simply fail to see the logic behind the punishment dealt out by the league over the last few years.

The NHL department of player safety is analogous to home-plate baseball umpires and their strike-zones. All we want is consistency.

Unfortunately, hockey fans are not getting any consistency when it comes to NHL suspensions.

Last season between Phoenix and San Jose Torres kept his nose clean and delivered this clean hockey hit in the playoffs and got a series long (six games) suspension. Even the injured player involved, Jarret Stoll, said the hit was clean. Torres targeted the shoulder and made initial contact with the shoulder before unfortunately sliding off and connecting with Stoll’s head. Hockey is a physical sport, and clean hits can sometimes lead to injuries.

Between the hit on Stoll, and this open ice interference hit on Marian Hossa, Torres was forced out of 27 games including 19 postseason games.

As for the Hossa hit, I won’t argue Torres didn’t deserve a suspension, it did, but the hit wasn’t intended to be dirty. A major for interference and a 10 game suspension would have been appropriate in my eyes.

The point to be had is that whether or not you think Torres crossed the line on these hits, you could clearly see the intentions of a clean hockey hit. In neither case did Torres come from behind or from the blindside and target the head. Both of the hittees were either in clear possession of the puck or had just prior to the hit been in possession before getting hit from the side/front.

Maxim Lapierre’s hits on the other hand are both the farthest things from hockey hits. In neither situation does the player getting hit clearly have possession of the puck. Lapierre can see the play developing in front of him in both scenarios. During the Boyle hit, Lapierre can clearly see that Boyle is turning and rimming the puck around the net causing his back to turn with his numbers and name staring Lapierre dead in the face. Yet Lapierre drives recklessly through the numbers anyway.

Furthermore, in what was the most reckless, gutless, dirtiest play I can remember not involving Todd Bertuzzi ,or a stick to the face, Lapierre launched a completely defenseless Scott Nichol into the end boards in March of 2010.

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To borrow a phrase from the NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan, “as the video shows” Nichol is all alone with the goaltender after a pass from Torrey Mitchell. Nichol releases his shot between the hash marks and the puck goes off the crossbar. It is not until Nichol gets to within a couple feet of the icing line when Lapierre cross-checks him from behind sending Nichol violently into the end boards.

At the time of contact, the puck is long gone and the players are still going at a high rate of speed. There is absolutely zero reason for Lapierre to make that kind of hit from behind. Yet Lapierre decides to finish his check anyway. As you can see, if Nichol doesn’t turn his head out of the way and take the impact on his shoulder, he could have very easily suffered a paralysis neck/spinal cord injury.

For these two dirty/illegal hits from behind, Lapierre—who is barely even an NHL worthy talent (Torres and Cooke are much more skilled players that actually bring positives to the game)—will have been suspended a grand total of nine regular season games. Nine.

Talk about a travesty. Torres receives 27 total and 19 playoff games of suspension for his two infractions when Lapierre’s unquestionably dangerous hits from behind get only nine regular season games!?

The NHL’s player safety department itself has some serious screws loose.

Too much emphasis is being put on the sustained injury of the hittee as well as the hitter’s past history and not enough on the level of dangerous situation in which the hitter delivers the hit.

Hossa didn’t see Torres coming, and the hit was far late, no question about it, but at the very least it was possible for him to see Torres and brace for contact. Nichol, on the other hand was 100% helpless and had no way of expecting the hit from behind.

Torres got 21 games for the Hossa Hit, and Lapierre got merely four for the Nichol hit. If you ask me, justice would have been better served if you flip flop those numbers.


You can follow Andrew on twitter: @ViewFromBensch



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