Raffi Torres, in my view, has more hockey skill than another man he has been compared to in Matt Cooke. Both of these players lived on the edge when it came to their physical play, and neither would hesitate in taking the opportuity if given to lay out an opponent in any manner possible. I'm not suggesting that either Cooke or Torres intended to injure anyone with their devastating hits, but the end result was that players got hurt when these two men were on the ice and in the "zone".
Torres, as stated above, clearly has more hockey talent, but he seems to have forgotten about chipping in offensively and goes hunting for the next big hit. Simply put: he's a predator on the ice. Players have to be aware when Torres is on the ice in the same way that they had to be aware when Matt Cooke was on the ice. Cooke, however, had the book thrown at him by the NHL's disciplinarians and his team after his numerous indiscretions, and actually became a solid hockey player this season with his outburst of offence. He's still a gritty, physical player, but he has certainly toned down the headshots and elbows that frequently came with his physical play after the Penguins threatened to cut him loose if he didn't clean up his play. As a result, Cooke is a now an asset for the Penguins rather than a liability because he scores as well as plays physically within the clearly-defined rules.
The otehr side of the coin is where the old Matt Cooke resides and where Raffi Torres currently plays. His respect for the health of other players is nil. Contact with the head on any checks has been outlawed for some time now, yet Torres continues to play on the wrong side of the established line in the sand. Case in point? Tonight's hit on Marian Hossa that saw Hossa leave the United Center on a stretcher.
I have read a number of reports that have said that Torres' hit was a "good hockey hit" and that he "didn't make contact with the head" as the media have been stressing. I'm pretty sure that the people writing these phrases are either blind or incompetent. And no, I won't mince words when it comes to this because you have to be stupid to say that Torres made no contact with the head.
If you watch the end of that video, check out how Hossa's head snaps to the left when Torres leaves his feet to deliver the high hit. That, readers, is what you call "contact with the head". That, readers, is exactly the kind of hit that Torres has become known for and why he deserves to be punished harshly. That, readers, is why Torres is looking at a lengthy suspension.
It's not like this is the first time that Torres will appear in front of the NHL Player Safety Department either. One year to the day, Raffi Torres threw this devastating head-check on Chicago's Brent Seabrook.
Again, if you call that a "good hockey hit", you need your bell rung. That was a shoulder to the head as clear as day. A player's head doesn't snap back the way that Seabrook's head did if Torres had caught him shoulder to chest. While Torres was not suspended by the NHL for this hit as the NHL's Hockey Operations department said that the rule did not violate Rule 48 due to the area behind the net being designated as a "hitting area", the Hockey Operations department certainly was already aware of Torres' penchant for devastating head-checks.
Before throwing the hit on Seabrook, Torres had been sitting at home as punishment for another indiscretion with his physical play. The NHL had already suspended Torres on April 5, 2011 for this vicious head-check on Edmonton's Jordan Eberle.
Torres received a four-game vacation for that hit that was unmistakably a check to the head of Eberle. Some will say that it's Eberle's responsibility to know who is on the ice at any time, but the blame, if you want to assign some, is 50/50. The hitter is just as responsible for how he throws a check as the recipient is for absorbing the check. If you catch a player's head with your elbow or shoulder, you're just as much to blame, if not more, as the player you're hitting in terms of put their safety at risk.
Pass It To Bulis, a fabulous Canucks blog, wrote in a November 19, 2010 article, "Don't ever change, Raffi, don't ever change." While the context in which PITB used this sentence is entirely different than my own, I think that he has to change his ways immediately. He's giving up a lot of money through his various suspensions, and he certainly isn't endearing himself to his fellow players with his constant dangerous play.
Torres seems to target the head of opposing players with regularity. Here he is from December 28, 2011 where he delivers a clear check to Andrew Ference's head while both players are pursuing the loose puck in the corner.
Some will say that this sort of contact happens all the time in puck pursuits, and I can believe that there is contact between the players. But Torres clearly goes after Ference's head once again with this check. If you truly believe that Torres is snake-bitten to the point that he simply is always in the midst of throwing a check when a guy sticks his head in the way, I have much swampland in Florida to sell you.
Phoenix hit the road after hosting Boston, and Torres was in the line-up as he wasn't punished for the Ference hit. So what does he do? He goes out and scrambles the brain of Colorado's Jan Hejda one night later.
I won't clear Hejda in this one completely as he appears to be anticipating a hit coming, but the puck is long gone by the time Torres is on Hejda. Some have said that Torres was simply trying to finish his check, but I'm calling bee-ess on that. Hejda is 100-feet from the play by the time Torres hits him, and Torres doesn't let up. While Hejda is partly to blame for dropping to a knee, why isn't Torres holding up on this hit? What makes it worse is that Torres' shift is over, and he heads directly to the bench after throwing this hit. He didn't have to finish his check in this case - someone else was coming onto the ice to pick up Hejda! Instead, he throws a check where his elbow catches the head of Hejda, and Hedja is crumpled in the corner. Even if Hejda had stayed on his feet, Torres was aiming for his head with his shoulder through his body position. That, readers, is sickening. Torres? He skated away with nothing more than a $2500 fine.
With no suspension coming on either play, though, Torres must have thought he could deliver another devastating hit since he got away with two in two days. Just two days later, on New Year's Eve against the Minnesota Wild, Nate Prosser is the next victim of a head-check. This time, however, Brendan Shanahan hands Torres a two-game break as he's suspended for his reckless play.
In the span of less than a week, Torres made deliberate and intentional contact with the heads of three different players. His history speaks of how he targets heads with his checks, and we have three separate incidents in three games within five days that show that Torres is a head-hunter.
Watch this "check" that he throws on Philly's Sean Couturier on December 3, 2011. Couturier is looking down for the puck, and Torres' shoulder goes up towards Couturier's head as Torres looks to exact revenge on Couturier's near-miss on Torres' head.
If there is any doubt that the head-check is a weapon of choice for Raffi Torres not only this season, but in his career, I'm not sure how much more proof one needs. There are better ways to react to Couturier's hit where it barely missed Torres' head, but Torres threw the shoulder upward at Couturier's face when he was looking for the puck in his feet. That's blatent, that's intentional, and that's dirty.
Want more? Here's a November 2, 2011 game between Phoenix and Colorado in Denver where Torres takes a run at Joakim Lindstrom in the corner. Check out the upward motion of his shoulder as he lays into Lindstrom.
If you've been keeping tabs, that's five attempts to scramble someone's brain in two months. These aren't just unfortunate circumstances; they are checks that are meant to hurt his opponent, and they target an area of the body of which everyone has become much more protective. When will someone put an end to Torres' reign of terror?
Some people have said to me in my moments of exasperation while watching Torres that "he's a little guy so he has to check upwards to knock guys over". The problem with that line of thought is that it is illegal to leave one's feet while throwing a check, and Torres isn't such "a little guy". He's 6'0" tall and weighs approximately 225 lbs., making him more of a wrecking ball on skates than a "little guy". He generates enough momentum when he skates that his checks will hurt regardless of how he throws them. He's a good-sized player, but he doesn't seem to understand how to throw a check properly. And when he does try to check a taller player, he almost always leaves his feet when throwing the check. Watch Torres launch himself into Max Pacioretty's face from a February 22, 2011 game.
Here's a tip: if you see a player launch himself upwards into the face of another player and the recipient of the hit loses his helmet, his head was the target. Guaranteed. No questions asked. So don't try and rationalize the fact that Torres is one of the NHL's all-time dirtiest players despite him being "a little guy". That's a load of horse poop.
Want to send a message? Shanahan should hand out the same suspension he gave to Matt Cooke for his play: a 10-game suspension starting next season and any additional playoff games that the Coyotes are in. Heck, give him 25 games (plus the rest of the playoffs) like Philly's Jesse Boulerice got for cross-checking Vancouver's Ryan Kesler in the face. Hand him a 20-game suspension (plus the playoffs) like Philly's Steve Downie got when he threw a nasty head-check on Ottawa's Dean McCammond in 2007. The NHLPA should have nothing but support for the NHL in Torres' upcoming meeting with Shanahan because Torres has been hurting the members of the NHLPA for too long with little repercussion. If the union isn't going to protect its members rather than one person, maybe let the NHLPA lawyers square off with Torres in a checking contest for a while.
I can't present any more evidence than what is above about the reign of terror that Torres has cut through the NHL and the members of the NHLPA. Hossa, Ference, Hejda, Prosser, Pacioretty, Williams, Milan Michaluk, Seabrook... all names of players who have suffered some sort of crushing blow to the skull from Torres, and six of those players within the last calendar year. That's not a track record - that's a pathology.
If this type of behavior has become pathological in Torres, he made need more than just time away from the game.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!