Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp (10) skates past Coyotes fans who show… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)
The NHL’s decision to suspend Phoenix forward Raffi Torres for 25 games to punish his vicious hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa was surprising because previous disciplinary actions in the playoffs had been relatively modest and had been no more than four games.
The verdict on Torres had the impact of a thunderclap — and not everybody agreed with it.
Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has suffered three concussions during his career, said Saturday he was gratified to see the league take harsh action against Torres, who has been punished several times for targeting opponents’ heads.
"We need to get back to stiff suspensions and having that respect for each other. Play hard but let’s stay away from the heads," Mitchell said before the Kings departed for Vancouver to play Game 5 of their playoff series against the Canucks.
"Raffi is a guy who plays on the edge and adds energy to his team and I respect that, but he needs to find a way to adjust his game a little bit so that his peers are safe, too."
Hossa was carried off the ice on a stretcher last Tuesday and was taken to a hospital for examination. He was released soon after but he hasn’t played since. NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, in the video explaining his decision, referred to Hossa’s "severe" injury and said he took the extent of the injury into account when determining the punishment. Shanahan also noted the many offenses Torres committed with that hit.
Hossa's Blackhawk teammates said they hope the suspension will deter other players from delivering head shots but acknowledged the great damage already done to Hossa.
However, reaction to the suspension wasn't unanimously supportive.
Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen, who was one of Torres’ linemates last season when Torres played for the Canucks, called the punishment "very, very harsh" for a hit made in the heat of competition.
"It’s a hockey hit. Yes, it’s a little bit late, it’s a little bit high. But I don’t think you can suspend a guy a third of the season based on that hit, even though he’s a repeat offender," Hansen told the Vancouver Province newspaper.
“I don’t think his hit was worth that much. You never want to see a guy leave the ice on a stretcher. It was a little bit late maybe, but Raffi has not even a second to make that decision. If you’re going to punish guys with 25 games, that’s definitely going to deter guys from finishing their checks. A couple of games probably would have been more suitable. Four or five, maybe, just because he has been suspended for that previously. Twenty-five games is way too much for a hockey play that went a little bit wrong.
"I don’t know if they’re trying to set a precedent, but I’m definitely feeling for Raffi."
But maybe the more important point is how Hossa is feeling after getting clobbered by a repeat offender who wasn’t punished harshly enough for previous offenses.
"I kind of think it’s almost like a five, 10, 25 thing," Mitchell said of the suspensions he’d like to see for such hits to the head. "Your first offense it’s five. Your second offense … sometimes it happens when guys aren’t known for that style of play and you don’t want to sit there and automatically go boom, 25 games to make sure this is out of the game.
"But the five, 10, 25, I’d like to see that. Past that, well then put them out half a season. There’s no need for that in the game. We all want to compete hard. We all want to hit hard.
"It hurts the team but the No. 1 person it hurts the most, and I’ve been through three of them, is Marian Hossa. That’s his life. And his life’s changed. There’s no doubt about it. It’s changed and obviously it’s changed where he’s not healthy and in pain and it’s changed in the fact that he’s much more susceptible to another one. It’s changed that maybe he might have issues the rest of his life. It’s changed because it could affect his livelihood. Maybe he’s much more susceptible. Maybe a team’s not going to take that risk on him anymore because of that.”