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Cam Cole: Nhl Sees No Evil, Hears No Evil

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He is 100% correct.

Cam Cole: NHL sees no evil, hears no evil

By Cam Cole, Vancouver Sun April 18, 2012 3:02 PM

LOS ANGELES — A dozen years ago, when we started down this road — when it was Scott Stevens cutting a swath through the brains of opponents with “legal” hits and paving his destructive path to the Hockey Hall of Fame — we asked a simple question.

Not “what does the rule book say?” but rather “what goes through a predator’s mind as he braces himself to deliver a killshot to a vulnerable player?”

The occasion was the Stevens hit that, for all intents and purposes, ended the career of Eric Lindros, who had just come back from a severe concussion and probably shouldn’t have been playing.

We were still asking it in 2003 when Stevens obliterated Paul Kariya during the Stanley Cup final.

And we were asking it after Matt Cooke effectively destroyed Marc Savard’s life, and when Mike Richards knocked out David Booth, and we were asking it a year ago, when Vancouver Canuck Raffi Torres sped around the Chicago net and knocked Brent Seabrook loopy with a head shot that was ruled quite all right by the National Hockey League because it occurred in the “hitting zone” — that previously unadvertised sector behind the goal where all head shots apparently came with a “get out of jail free” card.

This was how that Game 3 column began:

“If Raffi Torres plays another game for the Vancouver Canucks in this series — maybe these playoffs — there is more wrong with the hierarchy of his team than there is with the officiating crew that decided trying to take Brent Seabrook’s head off Sunday evening deserved only a minor for interference.

“He has to go, and his employers have to lump it.”

And later . . . “The NHL’s problem, and soon to be the Canucks’, is that Raffi Torres just entered Matt Cooke territory. A repeat offender now, a certified headhunter, he’s certain to be disciplined by the league — although nothing about the NHL’s dartboard discipline system can really be called certain. Let’s just say it’s likely, and would be entirely justified.”

If the email archive system hadn’t wiped out the greatest hits from last spring, we’d be happy to reproduce some of the obscene, threatening, illogical vitriol that spilled from the steaming keyboards of Canucks fans, outraged that a Vancouver writer would be so disloyal as to criticize Torres for what was, to them and to him, clearly just “a hockey hit.”

Well, Tuesday night in Chicago, one year to the day after trying to remove Seabrook’s cranium, Raffi Torres — human cannonball, now wearing the silks of the Phoenix Coyotes — delivered another head shot, this time sending Hawks’ Marian Hossa to hospital on a stretcher.

"As far as the hit goes, I just felt like it was a hockey play," Torres said after the Coyotes won the game in overtime. "Just trying to finish my hit out there.’’

This time, Torres received no penalty at all, though replays show he left the ice as he delivered the blow, launching his shoulder upward into the jaw of Hossa, and took a quick look back over his shoulder to see if any official had his arm up.

Neither of the referees, one of them being former director of officiating Stephen Walkom, saw anything wrong with the hit, which says a lot about the buck-passing that always ends up with the carnage landing in Brendan Shanahan’s lap.

Unless you don’t watch sports, you’ve already seen Chicago coach Joel Quenneville’s apoplectic interview on the bench with Joe Micheletti after the incident, wondering how in hell four officials saw nothing, and his blatant rage in his news conference afterwards, which will probably get him fined.

And now, there’s quite a chorus of “if Raffi Torres plays another game in these playoffs . . .” — one suggestion being that he be tossed for as many games as the Coyotes would have left if they went all the way to the Cup, and whatever he doesn’t serve in the playoffs will be tacked onto the start of next season.

That’s a fine idea.

But it’s never, ever, ever going to effect a change until the offending player’s team feels the pain. If Torres is suspended 10 games, Phoenix should have to play 10 games with 17 skaters.

Three Pittsburgh Penguins suspended for Game 4 of their series with Philly? Dan Bylsma only gets to dress 15 skaters. C’est la guerre. You think things wouldn’t shape up in a hurry?

The problem is, too many of the people who set the agenda in the NHL don’t want things to change. The permissiveness of the on-ice officials, it turns out, is no accident. They’re not blind out there, they are just following orders. The game has devolved to a point where everyone is free to join in the fun — young and old, small and large, goon and star — and every group has been well represented.

But we are told, by the always reasonable Brian Burke, that if we are focused on the violence, we should get over ourselves. In an interview with USA Today, he compared the public outrage over perceived mayhem to complaining about the rain at Woodstock.

"Yes, there was lots of mud, but it was the greatest music gathering in history," Burke said. "I hope we continue to nail the people who are crossing the line. But this is a small number of incidents, and it’s unfortunate that non-hockey media is focusing on that. But what I see is great hockey. It’s awesome."

Of course, Burke has gone so far out onto his limb as the chief proponent of truculence and obstreperousness — though his team is still looking the words up in the dictionary — he couldn’t crawl back now if he wanted to.

Torres’s indefinite suspension makes nine this post-season, topping the previous playoff record of six, and we’re only a little over a week into a two-month marathon. That’s no “small number” of incidents, and the list is growing longer every single night.

There are no mirrors in the NHL’s house, though.

In Washington, where Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom cross-checked Boston’s Rich Peverley in the head and received a one-game suspension, the Caps released a statement saying: “We disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Nicklas Backstrom. This has been a competitive and physical series, and we do not understand why a suspension was imposed in this case while other incidents in this series have not been reviewed.”

The New York Rangers, unhappy when the league suspended Carl Hagelin for his elbow to the head of Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson, said “we are thoroughly perplexed in the ruling’s inconsistency with other supplementary discipline decisions that have been made throughout this season and during the playoffs.”

The first and only recorded incidence of a team saying “good on the NHL, we support the penalty to our guy, and there’s no place in hockey for that type of hit,” came from Penguins GM Ray Shero when serial concusser Matt Cooke was finally nabbed by the authorities last season.

What happened? Cooke reinvented himself because his team said it was all done defending him.

If the NHL was interested in stopping Raffi Torres, really stopping him, it would require the co-operation of his employers. It might require the loss of a roster spot, too.

But don’t hold your breath. Gate receipts are fabulous. Ratings are up. The people in the Colosseum are loving watching the lions eat the gladiators.


Vancouver Sun


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I do like the idea of forcing teams to dress one less player if they have a suspended player on the roster.

But what has got to change is handing out suspensions based on the injury. Many non-injury plays can be just as dangerous as a more innocent play.

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The most surprising thing here is that there have been 3 more suspensions in the first week of the playoffs than there have been in any other entire playoff season.

I guess the NHL must feel like this means they are doing something about the problem?

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