By: Sean Sanbeg
SC Copy Editor
In his first full season as the National Hockey League’s chief player disciplinarian, Brendan Shanahan made his presence known, and decidedly so. He handed out suspensions as early as the preseason, and has continued to do so straight through the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Shanahan’s actions have earned him the nickname “Shanaban,” but that only sums up half of his story. Whether the hockey community agrees with his calls or not, there’s no mistaking the fact that Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety are taking their jobs seriously.
Shanahan’s latest suspension went over well with most of the NHL community. After a series of incidents and their resulting consequences, Shanahan might have finally got the message across to Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres by handing him a 25-game suspension for his latest illegal hit – this time on Chicago Blackhawks’ forward, Marian Hossa.
On April 21, Shanahan released one of his many videos this season explaining the action taken against the offending player. These videos not only give the league’s decided punishment, but they walk viewers through how Shanahan and the Department of Player Safety reached their verdict. As for Torres and his hit on Hossa, Shanahan found him in violation of three rules.
To start, Torres violated NHL Rule 56 – Interference. As explained by the video, Interference is defined as follows: “The last player to touch the puck, other than the goalkeeper, shall be considered the player in possession. The player deemed in possession of the puck may be checked legally, provided the check is rendered immediately following his loss of possession.” Anyone who saw the play unfold in either real time or in replay could see that Hossa was clearly no longer eligible to be checked.
Second, Torres violated NHL Rule 42 – Charging. In basic terms, the rule demands that a minor or major penalty be given to a player who skates or jumps into or charges an opponent in any manner. Players can make their hit, but they can’t leave their feet or skate through their opponent. Torres does both here.
And third, Torres violated NHL Rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head. The rule is simply stated as, “a hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head, where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact.” The combination of the other two violations allowed Torres to make Hossa’s head the principal point of contact. As a result, Hossa remains out indefinitely with concussion symptoms. Hossa’s injury combined with Torres’s five previous infractions earned Torres his 25-game suspension. As Shanahan points out, if the full length of Torres’s suspension isn’t served in the remainder of the Coyotes’ playoff games (depending on how far they advance), the suspension will carry over into next season. This would also stop Torres from playing in any preseason games.
While this was by far the most severe suspension this season, there were plenty of others. According to the 2011-2012 NHL suspension listing on TSN, there were 35 suspensions handed out over the course of the regular season. There were also nine suspensions given to players over the course of the preseason, and another eight suspensions given out so far in the playoffs.
It certainly seems like there’s been a lot more discipline this season than in those before it, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the league has gone soft. What both fans and players alike (should) all know is that the game has changed. For the most part, players and their equipment increased in strength and size over the years, thus leading to harder, more violent collisions. Hockey just isn’t hockey without a little physical contact, but with more than the majority of this season in the rear view mirror, it’s clear that Shanahan and company set out to preserve the physical elements of the game while remaining in the players’ best interests.
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