The moment of truth has arrived for Raffi Torres.
Already found guilty in hockey’s court of public opinion, the Phoenix Coyotes winger went before a higher power when he met Brendan Shanahan early Friday afternoon to discuss his punishing hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa earlier this week.
Torres personally attended the hearing at the NHL’s New York office along with two Coyotes executives—GM Don Maloney and assistant GM Brad Treliving—and representatives from the NHL Players’ Association.
At issue was not just the hit that briefly sent Hossa to hospital, but also a pattern of similar plays from Torres. History is always a significant factor in Shanahan’s decisions and the 30-year-old arrived in his office having been suspended twice and fined once in the past 13 months alone.
Torres has built a reputation of playing so close to the line that he’s prone to crossing it. In the wake of the Hossa incident on Tuesday night, numerous adjectives were used to describe him by major news organizations and none were flattering: menace, predator, head-hunter and punk, among them.
The Chicago Sun-Times filled the back page of its Thursday editions with a picture of Torres and the headline: “Public Enemy No. 1.”
Torres left his feet and appeared to catch Hossa’s head while launching through the hit—one he later referred to as a “hockey play.” The Chicago forward had passed the puck off more than a half second before the contact and didn’t see Torres coming.
The Blackhawks were particularly upset at the incident because Torres injured defenceman Brent Seabrook with a similarly dangerous hit during last year’s playoffs while he was playing for the Canucks.
“It was the same thing when he was in Vancouver last year, he probably thought that was a hockey play too,” said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. “There’s no remorse at all I don’t think with a guy like that. (There was) a guy carried off on a stretcher and he probably doesn’t feel bad about it all.
“That’s not hockey to me.”
Reputation will play a large role in the length of the suspension. The NHL’s former poster boy for dangerous hits was Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke, who made a conscious effort to clean up his act in March 2011 after being suspended 10 regular-season games and the entire first round of the playoffs.
He hasn’t been in trouble since.
Many see this as an opportunity for Shanahan to send a similar message to Torres. The Coyotes fared capably without him on Thursday night—taking a 3-1 series lead over Chicago with a 3-2 overtime win—but are hoping the suspension doesn’t last too long.
“He’s been a good player in the series for us,” said Phoenix coach Dave Tippett. “The thing about Raffi (is) he’s a hard player, he goes to the net and he shoots the puck very well.”
Torres averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time over the first three games of the playoffs and had a goal and an assist—important contributions for a Coyotes team that relies on scoring by committee.
But with the NHL in the midst of trying to make the game safer he could find himself sitting in the press box for a while. Torres will be the ninth player suspended by the NHL already this post-season.
“That hit might have been legal five years ago, six years ago, 10 years ago or whatever,” said Coyotes captain Shane Doan. “It was. But the league is trying to change itself.”