The Ballad of Raffi Torres

I’m sure you’re all familiar with that old southern mantra; Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

I wonder, how many times will Raffi Torres fool the NHL?

Shake it off, right?

Let me disclaim upfront: this is not merely about Torres’ hit on Marian Hossa last night that sent the Slovak to the hospital on a stretcher,  of all his questionable hits, that may have been the cleanest. This is about a body of work; a portfolio of wanton violence and skulduggery that stretches the length of Torres’ entire career. This is about consistency.

I enter the following as evidence:

and of course:

I included the last one so that you get the gist of my overall argument here: Raffi Torres makes poor choices, habitually. And each time he’s called on it, whether it’s a questionable hit or dressing in blackface, his argument is typically “i didn’t mean to hurt anyone”, which might be true. In the case of his Jay-Z get up I genuinely believe he didn’t mean for it to be racially insensitive. Still, poor choice of costume for a public figure. Poorer choice to allow your friend to put it on twitter.

As for the hits, most of them, on their own, are questionable. The question being whether Raffi was specifically head hunting each time. But all together? It’s a pretty damning collection of evidence that seems to suggest that Torres consistently targets other players’ heads.

So what to do with him this time? Suspension lengths increase based on player history, which, one would assume, will count against Torres here, and heavily. Also, I get the impression, and you might as well, that it’s high time Shanahan make an example out of someone. The perception is quickly becoming that these playoffs are a little out of control and a significant suspension here would be, depending on your point of view, a step in the right direction.

Then again, there have been worse hits these playoffs that garnered no suspensions, or at the most, suspensions of three games (Carl Hagelin on Daniel Alfredsson). What Shanahan does here may very well be the benchmark on which his career as VP of Player Safety is judged. It may even determine how long he keeps that position.

Finally there is the supposed “culture change” to consider. We’ve heard many times this year about the need to “change the culture” surrounding hits to the head in light of the concussion epidemic. Part of that culture, we’ve been lead to believe, is cultivated by the players, and it’s up to them to change it. Fat chance. As for the other part, that is the onus of the NHL, and will be changed by how they approach head-shots in terms of suspensions. In the past, this hit on Hossa, with Torres’ history in mind, may have resulted in a game or two being docked, but it feels as though that might be insufficient now. If Shanahan and the NHL are to make a statement here it will have to be an unprecedented one. It’s a go-big-or-go-home moment now.

If Torres gets more than five games the statement will have been made. Two or less? Business as usual.Three or four? A decidedly ambiguous result, which may be what the NHL would prefer.

At any rate, there is a reason that this moment has caused such a stir around the NHL and its fanbase: it’s a contentious hit. There’s validity on all sides. It’s up to the NHL to let everyone else know, finally, what kind of hit this one really is.

Written by Jesse Borg.

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