Make no mistake, the NHL created the Raffi Torres who drilled his shoulder into Jakob Silfverberg’s head over the weekend. It created this player by continually slapping him on the wrist for being the kind of predatorial player he became. It created this player by enveloping itself in a culture of violence and hate, and justified his behavior with ridiculous “hitting zones” and encouraged it with its “finishing his check” mentality.
In that respect, it definitely has blood on its hands here. The league’s department of player safety is being lauded, as it should, for handing down a 41-game suspension to Torres for his most recent transgression. It was a long time coming and few would have complained if it had even been more. Torres will lose the right to play the game he loves for half a season and will miss out on almost $441,000 in salary. (Shockingly, even though this is the fifth suspension of Torres’ career, he’s not considered a repeat offender.) It’s a steep price to pay to be sure, and maybe, just maybe, Torres will get the message this time.
It may be too late to do any good because the reality is Torres is on the last year of his contract and the same characteristics that made him a valued commodity are almost certain to make him a pariah now. Even if the Sharks choose to use him after he serves his half-season sentence, there’s a pretty good chance his act has played itself out. But there is a chance for some sort of redemption here and that would be for Torres to prove the suspension has made him a changed man for the final 41 games of the season, and perhaps his career.
The lengthy sentence is definitely a step in the right direction, even if it’s too late to truly rehabilitate Torres. It will have been considered a huge step forward, though, if it can deter another player from making the same kind of dangerous and reckless play. And really, that’s all the NHL can hope for now.
But what we do know, and have known for some time, is that lengthy suspensions are the only way the NHL is going to stop the likes of Torres from doing what he does to other players. The pro-fighting crowd likes to think that this kind of garbage would stop if Torres had just been fed a steady diet of knuckles from a vigilante opponent. But let’s stop to ponder how many holes can be blown in that theory.
First, there was nothing beyond an instigator penalty that rarely gets called stopping anyone from doing exactly that up to this point. Second, does anyone really think that players such as Raffi Torres are going to curb their behavior over the prospect of getting into a fight? And third, it seems many of these incidents are being perpetrated by guys who like to play on the wrong side of the rulebook anyway. This is not to suggest in any way that Torres is an enforcer, but he’s certainly a member of the thug crowd when it comes to hockey players, not for his fists, but for his recklessness.
People don’t seem to want to hear this, but long suspensions are the only way to stop the Raffi Torreses of the NHL. Take away their right to play the game they love for a long, long time. Take away their ability to earn a living and put them through the agony of watching their teams go on for a long stretch without them. Make them forgotten men in their own organizations.
It seems a 21-game suspension a couple of years ago was not enough to curb Torres’ predatorial appetite. It seems as though all the lost money and lost opportunities to play have not had the desired effect. But that might be because Torres is an extremely slow learner when it comes to this stuff. He is the exception rather than the rule. And if he doesn’t learn from this latest suspension, then he truly is a hopeless case.
You continue to punish people with punitive measures and they’ll continue to push the envelope. You expect that fighters will take care of these things and all it does is beget more violence and lead to a vicious circle that never, ever seems to get closed. No, keep the suspensions coming NHL. You’re really onto something here.