Raffi Torres Suspended 4 Games by NHL: Finally Cracking Down on Headshots?

Jeremy GrittenContributor IApril 7, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 08:  Raffi Torres #13 of the Vancouver Canucks during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 8, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Canucks defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NHL ruled Thursday that Raffi Torres would be suspended four games for his hit on Jordan Eberle in Edmonton on Tuesday night.  Two regular season games and two playoff games seemed harsh, considering Torres kept his elbow in and didn’t seem to target Eberle’s head. 

Eberle also bounced back up and played on the ensuing Oilers power play, leaving many to believe Torres would escape suspension.

The fact of the matter is that Torres, whether intentional or not, hit Eberle in the head.  Some will argue that Eberle put himself in a vulnerable position and that the onus is on him to protect himself. 

But what it comes down to is that the NHL needs to start protecting its players, and if this suspension is a sign of things to come, it seems they are going to be taking things much more seriously.

Consistency seems to be lacking, looking at Dany Heatley’s recent hit on Steve Ott that received just two games and Pavel Kubina’s elbow on Dave Bolland that warranted three.  Both of these hits look much more dangerous than Torres’, so the fact that he got more games, especially considering two of them are playoff games, seems ludicrous.

But if the Torres ruling is going to be a benchmark, one that the NHL can continue to enforce going forward, it will be better for the game.

With the speed of the game today, players are going to be vulnerable.  It’s coming to the point where it’s up to the player making the hit to ensure that he does not contact the head.

It’s easy to watch from the living room and say that “he had it coming” because he couldn’t keep his head up, but at what point do they start protecting these guys?

Marc Savard is having memory problems at the age of 33.  This stuff is scary.

When Bob Probert passed away, it was discovered that he had a brain disease from chronic trauma to the head.  Whether this was more from actually playing, or fighting, is a moot point.  It happened while he was on the ice as an NHL hockey player, entertaining fans.

The NFL is having serious issues with ex-players suffering mightily from head injuries sustained during their playing days.  Who knows how many more current or past NHL players will have similar issues?  We won’t be able to tell until the current era of players grows older.  Will it be too late by the time we see the effects on these current players?

There are dangerous occupations in life.  Firefighters, police officers, fisherman—the list goes on.  This, however, is entertainment. 

There will always be risk in professional sports, but it is up to the league to limit those risks the best they can.  Players should not have great risk to their quality of life going forward in order to entertain the fans.

The so-called “traditionalists” will argue that doing this will remove hitting from the game.  It will turn from the National Hockey League into the “No Hit League”.  Glorified figure skating.  These claims are ridiculous.

The OHL has implemented a zero-tolerance policy on headshots, and the quality of the game has not suffered drastically.  Games are still physical, exciting affairs.  Players still throw hits. 

It’s undeniable that the institution of a similar rule will not eliminate some exciting open-ice hits.  It will be extremely hard to police and enforce.  But it seems a small price to pay to try to ensure these players living healthy into the later years of their life. 

Nobody wants to remove hitting from the game, but it does have to change.  If the sport of hockey is going to continue to flourish and grow, the NHL has to change.  There must be a precedent set that hits to the head are never acceptable, no matter the circumstance. 

Every sporting league evolves.  It’s about time the NHL did.