Raffi Torres suspension: Sharks forward punished for past, not present

Christian Petersen

San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres has a checkered past, which ultimately caught up to him when the NHL Department of Player Safety suspended him for the duration of the Western Conference Semifinal.

Defending Raffi Torres is never an easy way to begin a discussion. Given his history and reputation, many have developed a preconceived notion of the San Jose Sharks' aggressive forward.

The most notable instance of this is the National Hockey League.

On Thursday night, the NHL administered an unprecedented ruling in the two year history of the Department of Player Safety by suspending Torres for the remainder of the Western Conference Semifinal for his hit on Los Angeles Kings forward Jarret Stoll.

Stoll sustained an undisclosed injury on the play and has been ruled out indefinitely. In turn, the Department of Player Safety enacted an 'eye for an eye' form of justice, which will keep Torres out indefinitely, as well.

When watching the replay of the hit, it appears as though Torres attempted to connect on a clean check. Given Stoll's hunched over body positioning on the play, Torres' initial mark of the shoulder became a moving target as the Kings' forward attempted to collect a rolling puck. Unfortunately, this resulted in an ambiguous hit that included both Stoll's shoulder and head.

Torres was called for charging on the play even though it didn't appear as though he did so. He didn't leave his feet; he didn't use his elbow; and he didn't leap upwards. He certainly didn't appear to be acting in a predatory manner and he didn't come from a blindside.

By those accounts he didn't do anything worthy of discipline.

Brendan Shanahan explains in the suspension video that Torres must take a route that insures he hits through the core of the body. Which begs the question: how is he supposed to do that when Stoll's core is bent over? Would the route altered anything about the play? Upon several reviews of the hit, it appears as though the route wasn't the problem.

The player executing the hit is.

Times are changing in professional sports. More attention is being paid to player safety and preserving their bodies for life after play. Most importantly, attention is being paid to head trauma and potential side effects from violent, unnecessary collisions. This has resulted in professional leagues attempting to curb player's actions in order to keep the physical component of the games intact, without putting the players at risk.

It's an important development.

In the past, Torres has acted like a predator by taking risks and putting other opponents in harm's way. The strongest example of this was last postseason when he was suspended 25 games for hitting Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa (later reduced to 21 games on appeal).

Coming into this season, Torres stated he would change his ways. By most accounts, he has.

However, Thursday's suspension appears to be a case of his past meeting up with him. The Department of Player Safety has made it clear that history plays a factor in their decisions, as does injuries. Stoll was injured on the play, and Torres has a checkered past.

With that in mind, Torres' suspension isn't because of the hit. It's because of who administered it. Whether that form of justice is truly just is debatable. Ultimately, that's the system in place. As long as that's the case, players like Torres will need to assess the potential risk of suspension when lining up for a hit.

In the larger scheme of things, that's exactly what the league wants.

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