Last night Raffi Torres leveled Jordan Eberle with a blindside elbow to the head. Torres got a five-minute major for elbowing plus a game misconduct, as well as a fighting major from the scrum afterwards. Eberle was luckily not injured and came back to play during the following power play. You can view the video of the hit here.
There are calls for Torres to receive a lengthy suspension, along the lines of Matt Cooke, perhaps 10 games or more. However, I feel that is totally out context with the hit itself.
Disclaimer: I’m obviously a Canucks fan, and I like Torres. However, I’m also an Eberle fan, and I picked him to win the Calder during my predictions last fall. Let's break down the hit itself.
Did Torres hit Eberle in the head with an elbow? Yes.
Was it a blindside hit? Yes.
Did Torres have his elbow tucked into his side at the point of contact? Yes.
Did Torres leave his feet? No.
Did Eberle have the puck in an offensive position when he was hit? Yes.
Did Eberle crouch while turning and put his head down at a level equal to the midsection of Torres? Yes.
What would be appropriate punishment?
Was Torres punished during the game with a five-minute major and game misconduct? Yes.
Was Eberle injured? No.
Does Torres have a history of suspensions? No.
Combine all those factors, and I think Torres was punished adequately during the game for a hit that Eberle contributed to as well. I think the five-minute major plus game misconduct during the late stages of 1-0 game was punishment enough for the elbow.
I actually have a problem with calling it an elbowing major, when Eberle put his head low enough that Torres (hardly a titan like Pronger or Chara) could have hip checked him in the face. Because of Eberle’s actions and the fact that Torres had his elbow tucked into his side, I would have thought a minor for elbowing would have been more appropriate.
Now, that being said about the elbow itself, it was a blindside hit.
Does the NHL throw a lengthy suspension at Torres for the blindside hit? I think at most it will be a token two-game suspension, so that Torres is back for the start of the playoffs. Possibly only a fine and a warning.
First, Eberle wasn’t injured. While the NHL says that injuries aren’t a part of the suspension process, they obviously play a part.
Second, Torres doesn’t have a reputation as a dirty player. Physical yes, dirty no. And he doesn’t have a history of suspensions either.
Third, I think the NHL will take into account the mitigating factor that Eberle himself contributed to the situation. I don’t think Colin Campbell would have passed up a hit himself on a star player with the puck in the offensive end just because he was crouching. (Yes, that isn’t necessarily logical given today’s NHL, but you can hardly argue that the NHL front office uses logic on a regular basis when it comes to head hits and suspensions.).
Fourth, I think the NHL will look at the punishment leveled during the game itself, and consider it equivalent to the recent Todd Bertuzzi on Ryan Johnson hit, or Patric Hornqvist on Tyler Seguin hit, rather than a Matt Cooke style of hit.
All in all, I think Torres ends up with a fine, but I wouldn’t be surprised with a token two-game suspension. But I think it would be a major surprise if he was suspended for playoff games.