Jeff Carter #77 of the Los Angeles Kings poke checks the puck away from Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks, as goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings defends in the third period of Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 14, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated the Sharks 2-0.
Photograph by: Jeff Gross, Getty Images
LOS ANGELES — On the face of it, it seems harsh.
Old-time hockey nostalgists will scoff at the idea of Raffi Torres being suspended for the hit Tuesday that knocked Jarret Stoll out of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal.
“For that?” they will cry. “The guy should have kept his head up.”
The San Jose Sharks protest that it was a clean hit, not even worth the charging minor Torres got when he clocked the Los Angeles Kings centre, shoulder to cheek, near the end of the second period.
To which -- if it has a lick of sense -- the National Hockey League will reply: “It’s a head hit by a guy who’s been warned that he’s all out of second chances. A repeat-repeat offender.”
Even if the perpetrator had been John Doe, the league would have reviewed the incident. But it wasn’t John Doe, it was Torres, who has three suspensions for a total of 27 games, and a couple of fines, on his dossier for predatory hits -- and it would have been four suspensions if he hadn’t been given a pass by the league, on an obscure technicality, for his 2011 playoff cold-cocking of Chicago’s Brent Seabrook.
So what is the NHL to do with a problem like Raffi? It really has little choice.
Maybe the Sharks thought he was cured; that coach Dave Tippett had waved a magic wand in Phoenix and broken Torres of his penchant for turning opponents’ lights out.
Plenty of teams were buying that reinvention theory and getting in the sweepstakes to acquire Torres at the trade deadline, including the Vancouver Canucks, among his many former employers. The Sharks won. But whatever the p.r. department may say about it, the front office has to know that if you sign a Raffi Torres, a Matt Cooke, his list of priors comes with him. He is always one bad hit from having the book thrown at him and -- in this case, depending how severe the league decides to be after an in-person hearing (usually bad news for the hitter) with Torres Thursday in New York -- costing his team a useful top-six forward in a playoff series.
Of course, if he goes down, he’ll be taking one of L.A.’s with him.
Stoll has concussion symptoms, and didn’t practise Wednesday with the Kings.
“He’s day-to-day, but the series is ... we play seven games in 12 days. It’s tough,” said L.A. coach Darryl Sutter.
His opinion of the hit?
“I thought it was .... careless.
“(Stoll is) a really good player for us, he was a big part of winning the Stanley Cup, really good centreman, guy who plays minutes, plays special teams, so obviously our player is a little more important than theirs.”
Brad Richardson is expected to move into Stoll’s spot for Game 2 Thursday night. Sharks coach Todd McLellan didn’t say what he’d do about replacing Torres.
“I'm assuming he is going to play. Until all the work is done, we have to assume that.”
The Sharks were, predictably, shocked that the league even reviewed the hit.
“It almost seems like the player getting hit has no responsibility at all right now,” said Joe Thornton. “I think Jarret probably wasn't expecting to get hit, and it just looked like a clean hit. But it just seems the responsibility is on the hitter right now, not the receiver.
“The way I was brought up is to keep your head up. When I was six years old, I was taught that.”
“I was on the ice, basically right beside it, and thought it was shoulder to shoulder, clean hit,” said Sharks’ Logan Couture.
“Right after the play happened, I was surprised there was even a penalty on the play because he didn't charge him. He was two feet away when he hit him.”
On the play, Torres glided across and caught Stoll reaching for a puck -- a very similar hit to the one that Colorado’s Steve Moore delivered to Vancouver’s Markus Naslund in 2004, the one that touched off the Todd Bertuzzi retribution incident that, nine years later, is still before the courts.
A key difference here was in the Kings’ reaction, or lack of it, to losing a player to a concussive hit. They were very composed, in real time, and again Wednesday -- though they might have been coached to say little while the league ponders the evidence.
“We’re emotionally invested enough,” said Dustin Penner. “We have a lot on the line. We want to defend our Stanley Cup, we’re not going to go looking for bulletin-board material, we don’t need that type of motivation.”
“I think we’re clearly a team that’s not going to lower ourselves to retribution,” Sutter said. “That’s not going to come into play, that’s zero. We talked about not taking retaliation or dumb penalties, that’s not going to change.”
“There are ways to do it within the rules,” said captain Dustin Brown. “And that’s what we have to do. It’s the playoffs, the best retribution is winning games right now.”
Many of the Kings, including Sutter, claimed not to have seen replays of the hit, which defies credibility.
“I watched the whole game. What difference does it make if I slow it down?” the coach said. “I’m not making the decision. They can do it into thousandths of seconds, doesn’t really affect what we do tomorrow, does it? What’s the point?”
Adding to the intrigue is that Torres and Stoll were best of buddies -- “Very tight,” said Penner -- when all three played together in Edmonton. Indeed, Penner thought Stoll might have been in Torres’s wedding party.
On the other hand, he said, “If anyone is going to make that hit, it’s Tico (Torres) ... I think everybody knows the player, when the player’s not suspecting you to hit him. It’s not the first time a hit like that’s happened.”
Anyway, friendship off the ice doesn’t carry over into battle.
“It’s not supposed to,” Penner said.
But sometimes it does?
“Um, I’m trying to think of a scenario. Maybe if I was playing against my dad, I wouldn’t do it.”
Carolina’s Eric Staal concussed his own little brother, Marc, put it that way. Sutter admitted he might have even hit a few of his hockey-playing siblings during the six boys’ NHL careers.
“I never suckered them,” he said.
Maybe what landed on Jarret Stoll’s head Tuesday wasn’t a sucker punch. But its thrower was Raffi Torres, and whatever anyone might think of the hit, what matters in this case is what the judge and jury think of the recidivist who delivered it.
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