Former Buffalo Sabres forward Raffi Torres has been the talk of the hockey world since his dangerous hit on Marian Hossa Tuesday night in the playoff game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks. I fought the urge all day yesterday to write something that bashed the play, that called Torres an idiot, that blamed Shanahan for getting it all wrong and opening this pandora’s box on Lord Stanley’s sacred ground. Something had to be written though, but not just about Torres. As the hockey world waits for Torres to tell Shanahan that he didn’t mean it; and Shanahan believing him and telling him that he can’t play for a few days – consider what is wrong with our beloved game.
Playoff hockey is fueled by emotion. Sidney Crosby playing kindergarden games with an opponents glove after a scuffle, Shea Weber’s WWF performance, elbows, cross checks stupid ass plays by guys who know better playing for the chance to lift the Stanley Cup and be infamous for one summer, and immortalized for all time.
Raffi Torres actions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were more than just emotion though, they are everything that is wrong with the NHL – and why they continue to lose to the likes of the NFL, the NBA, and the MLB – regardless of their storylines. I can guarantee you more people today care about and google information about the NHL schedule being released today on the internet than there are people looking for more information on last nights playoff contests. It’s just a fact of life – thats where the NHL is relinquished to in the pro sports world. I’m not complaining, the NHL is tops in my book, but at the end of the day, I am not going to spend enough of my money to keep the league afloat – so they need to fix whats wrong with their game and do it fast.
- Why are guys like Torres still floundering in the league? It certainly isn’t for their scoring ability. He’s only scored 20 goals or more twice, and his career high came the year after the lockout. Teams sign a guy like Torres to be physical, and to take away ice from the guys who need it to perfect the skill game of hockey.
- Rule Change number one, get rid of the instigator rule. Torres leaps (slightly) and targets the head of Hossa. No penalty called, but the desert dogs get a powerplay because Chicago gets a penalty for trying to protect one of their own. Hits like the Torres/Hossa incident are going to continue to happen because no longer are you allowed to police things up on the ice.
- Your suspension system is broke – and it is unfortunate that it has taken this years Stanley Cup playoff to maybe show you something the fans and media have known for the longest time. Standardized your suspensions, get the former players out of the decision making process, and make protecting your players – the only asset you have a top priority.
- The instigator was put in to take out some fighting and eliminate a part of the game that many have seen as archaic and unnecessary. Well – fans don’t mind the fighting; and I think many would rather see fighting back up a little in the NHL if it means their star players are going to be protected a bit more.
- Allow penalties to be reviewable. We don’t need to go to Toronto for a decision every-time the whistle is blown, but this is the 21st century – there has to be a way for a referee to review a play and make the right call. As the focus on the Torres hit is telling us – the game happens so fast that even two refs and two linesmen can still miss things.
- Hold the refs accountable. It seems that referee’s show up to an arena, blow their whistle, officiate the game – and then move on to the next contest. There is no recourse for their actions. I think the NHLPA needs to bring this up as a contestable item in the next round of CBA talks. I don’t think the on ice officials should be immune, and while opening them up to the scrutiny of the media or the fans could take away from the game – an organization should be able to publicly call out an official and demand a statement about a blown call or missed penalty – and get a publicly available response. Until that happened the striped shirts will be above the game.
I am sure I could go on and on about what else is wrong with my beloved hockey game, but my disappointment would get to the point that I would have to question why I watch the game night in and night out, regardless of whether my team is in it or not. Stay classy NHL, stay classy – when the world forgets you exist one day – you can look to seasons like this and wonder what could have been.