x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Vicious hit was Coyote ugly

Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes has been handed a 25-game suspension for his hit on Marian Hossa, a sign the NHL is finally getting tough on dirty plays.

Raffi Torres, standing, of Phoenix, was hit with a 25-match suspension for his vicous hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa. Nam Y Huh / AP Photo
Raffi Torres, standing, of Phoenix, was hit with a 25-match suspension for his vicous hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa. Nam Y Huh / AP Photo

Raffi Torres, the Phoenix Coyotes winger, is the NHL's newest punishment poster boy after being handed a 25-game suspension for a leaping, shoulder-to-head hit on Marian Hossa, the Chicago Blackhawks star.

The opening week of the NHL play-offs had already been a show of violence and chaos, cheap shots and line brawls, with Brendan Shanahan, the league disciplinarian, doling out eight suspensions before the hammer fell on Torres.

And that does not even include the Nashville Predators star defenceman Shea Weber deliberately driving the Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass.

That transgression at the end of Game 1 of that series - which the Preds would go on to win in five games - appeared to be a step backwards for the NHL as it decided on a fine of US$2,500 (Dh9,180) rather than a suspension.

The Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins, heated rivals at the best of times, went off the rails in the first few games of their first-round meeting, and three Penguins received bans after Game 3.

The St Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks traded elbows and hits from behind. The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators both had players suspended after Game 2, when the Senators ruffian Matt Carkner attacked Brian Boyle and then the Rangers rookie speedster Carl Hagelin went high with an elbow on Swedish countryman Daniel Alfredsson, the Ottawa captain and all-around class act. It should be noted that he has not been back after suffering a suspected concussion.

On and on it went, each night bringing new lowlights rather than the anticipated highlights.

It was not the start to the play-offs that anyone expected, wanted, or even understood, really.

And then Torres blasted Hossa, about a second after the Blackhawks player had passed off the puck. Hossa veered suddenly, naturally lowering his body as he turned, just as Torres charged in and exploded upwards, leaving his feet as he hammered into Hossa, shoulder slamming into jaw, and the debate on play-off violence was taken to a whole new level.

Give the NHL credit for responding definitively, at least. Torres, a repeat offender who had been punished three times in the previous 13 months (and had a record and reputation as a headhunter before that, too), was an easy example.

Still, 25 games was a stunning sentence, and one can only assume it marks the beginning of a new era of NHL justice.

Compared to similar hits, the suspension far exceeds any precedent. If the league wanted to send a message, mission accomplished. The challenge now will be to stick to the new standard and to be consistent.

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