Torres was at it again on Tuesday night, this time on the game's biggest stage, the playoffs. Torres' devastating blow to Chicago's Marian Hossa left the Blackhawks star laying motionless on the ice. The hit was late, high and Torres left his feet to deliver it. A triple-threat, if you will.
Hossa was taken to the hospital, and the full diagnosis and extent of the injury is unknown at this point. What is known, though, is that Torres shouldn't touch the ice for the rest of the playoffs. And he should probably be forced to sit out some games once next year's season starts as well.
Hopefully, Brendan Shanahan and the NHL act swiftly and punish the crime to its fullest extent. It was a dirty hit from a dirty player, and it needs to be punished. However, the NHL has shown a disturbing trend in the last week or so to get its act together when it comes to supplemental discipline.
Where Matt Carkner was suspended one game for an attack on Brian Boyle in the Senators-Rangers series, Nicklas Backstrom was given the same punishment for a far less calculated cross-check to the face of Rich Peverley in a postgame scrum. The punishments handed out to Pittsburgh's James Neal (one game for reckless hits) and Arron Asham (four games for a high cross-check and a punch to the back of a head) both seemed relatively light.
These ugly incidents have shifted the public focus from what's been a pretty darn exciting week of hockey to reckless on-ice behavior that endangers players and sometimes, like in Hossa's case, leaves them with nasty injuries.
Here's the thing, though. While the NHL disciplinary efforts leave a lot to be desired (and they have for quite some time now), Shanahan and the league are far from the only ones at fault in this situation. The sudden explosion of questionable hits and ruthless attacks after the whistles isn't necessarily a reflection of the league's disciplinary efforts, rather it's an indication that the NHL community needs to step back and take a look at the way they do things.
It starts, as it always should, with the players. There's an apparent lack of respect among some players, with Torres chief among them. The hit we saw from Torres on Tuesday night was reckless, dangerous and gutless. It was also unsurprising. The league needs to come down on him hard because he's clearly not getting the message. By comparison, players like Torres make the year had by Matt Cooke this year look angelic. Cooke, to his credit, behaved himself this year, something even more "impressive" considering he's stood idly by throughout the gong show of a series that has been Penguins-Flyers.
But look back at the last week or so, and you'll see cheap shot after cheap shot. Torres, Carnker, Asham and Weber are all guilty. As are Byron Bitz and Carl Hagelin. That's a pretty ugly rap sheet for just the first half of the first round.
The NHL will always be popular among hardcore hockey fans. That's not going to change any time soon. However, if players continue to take unnecessary runs at each other or come in with elbows and shoulders locked in on heads, the injuries are going to pile up, and as a result, it's going to water down the product. That's not something the league (and its players) can afford.
The players need to do more on the ice to control the game, but so do the officials. The on-ice officiating has been head-scratching at times in the first week of the playoffs, and there's no better example than the Torres hit. It doesn't take a seasoned puckhead to know that the Torres hit was at least some sort of penalty. However, it went uncalled.
In fact, the Coyotes came out of it up a man. Brandon Bollig went to the defense of his teammate and chasing down Torres. For his defense, he was given a roughing penalty and a game misconduct. To recap: Torres put one of the Blackhawks' best players on a stretcher, and Phoenix ended up with a power play.
Also going unpunished, at least on the ice, was Shea Weber's WWE-inspired facewash of Henrik Zetterberg into the glass. Had something like a match penalty been called, it may have solved a lot of problems. It would have come with an automatic one-game suspension, and the precedent for a suspension would have been set. There would have been far less grey area, and it wouldn't have put the NHL in a place to try and make an arbitrary ruling.
This isn't to say there's no place for physical play in the game. Far from it. The game is at its best when it's played physically. The same goes for fighting. But there is a difference between acting like a total dope (Asham, Torres, etc.) and playing a strong, physical brand of hockey.
There's a difference between the bone-crushing hit Dustin Brown delivered on Henrik Sedin, or Sidney Crosby dropping the gloves with Claude Giroux in an attempt to jumpstart their teams in a passionate series than there is in seeing Marian Hossa wheeled off on a stretcher.
For hockey to remain clean and honest, everyone in the league must do a better job of policing the sport. The players need to be better. The officials must be better. Shanahan and the department of player safety need to be better.
Perhaps above all, it's time for Gary Bettman to come out and try and put an end to this ugly stepchild variation of what can be a good, clean, physical sport. Bettman has been far too quiet throughout, and perhaps it's his voice that needs to be heard more than other.
Change is needed. And until that change comes, the unsightly black eye that has come to characterize the game's toughest players will instead serve to mask a breath-taking sport that will have fallen victim to reckless, negligent and irresponsible behavior.
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