ROAD ADVANTAGE, STRANGE DECISION AND TORRES.

Jason Gregor
April 18 2012 12:56PM

The AHL switched the first round of their playoffs from a best-of-seven to a best-of-five this year, but in the process they forced some higher seeds to make a very difficult decision. The OKC Barons will start their series, v. the #8 seed Houston Aeros, on the road, despite finishing first in the western conference. The Barons are one of five teams who faced this dilemma.

This year the AHL reduced their regular season schedule from 80 games to 76, and they also extended their regular season by a week. They did this to cut down on three games-in-three-nights, and it was a wise decision. Playing three games in three nights is tough enough, but it is even harder when some teams had 4-8 hour bus trips between games.

Fewer games and an extra week to play 76 games was less taxing on the players, but the AHL didn't want to be playing into the middle of June so they reduced the first round of the playoffs to five games. It makes sense, but there is one catch.

Five of the eight first round series matchups pit teams that are at least eight hours apart (driving), and in the case of Chicago and San Antonio they are 17 hours apart. They will travel by plane for this series. All five of the series are considered "flying" series, so these five series will be played under a 2-3 format. The higher-seeded team has the option of either playing the first two at home, and next three on the road, or they can start on the road for two and have the final three games at home.

Tough decision. 

In the Barons case, building availability played a small part as well, but the Barons ended up opting to start in Houston tomorrow and Friday, and then play at home Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday if necessary. However, when you look at what the other four teams in the same boat as OKC chose to do, I'm not sure building availability was much of a factor.

Norfolk was #1 in the east and they opted for two at home and three on the road. They've won 28 consecutive games (not a typo, 28 freaking games in a row), so I'm sure they are confident they will sweep at home, but if they don't, they'd have to win two of three on the road to win the series.

The remaining three "higher seeded" teams have decided to start on the road.

The 2nd seed in the east,  St. Johns, will play the first two games in Syracuse and then finish the series at home.

The #3 and #4 seeds in the west, Chicago and Abbotsford, also elected to start on the road and finish with three home games.

The Barons and the other three teams still technically have "home ice advantage" because they have more home games scheduled, but it doesn't seem quite as comfortable as starting and ending a series at home.

The three series that involve teams within close proximity of one another will use the traditional 2-2-1 format.

I asked OKC head coach Todd Nelson his thoughts on the first round. "We've been a very good road team all year, so we elected to start the series on the road. It is just another challenge for our team, but we've faced many this year and won, so I'm confident we can handle this."

OKC finished their season in San Antonio on Sunday, and instead of driving home and then back to Houston, they went straight to Houston.

It's interesting to note that four of the five teams opted to start on the road and finish with three home games. We'll see if they made the right decision. 

HOME SWEET HOME...DON'T THINK SO

Through the first 25 games of this year's playoffs the road team is a dominating 17-8.

The Kings and Flyers are 2-0 on the road. Phoenix, Nashville, Florida, Boston, St. Louis and New York have won the last six games, and all of them came away from home.

Is home ice really that much of an advantage anymore?

It seems to be more of an advantage the deeper you go, but the first round favours the road teams.

Here is how the home team's fared in last year's playoffs.

First round: 23-29
2nd round: 10-11
3rd round: 9-3
Finals: 6-1

The Bruins won the Cup and they were 10-3 at home. Keep in mind, they lost they their first two home games to Montreal, before winning 10 of 11 in Boston.

In 2010, home ice became an advantage in the later rounds as well.

First round: 22-27
2nd round: 14-13
3rd round: 6-3
Finals: 5-1

The Cup winning Hawks went 2-1 in the first round, 1-2 in the 2nd, then 5-0 in the final two rounds. 

As the playoffs progress, the dominant teams start to take care of business at home. We shouldn't be surprised that the road teams are having a lot of success in the opening round this spring because it's been that way for a few years.

Last night Raffi Torres rocked Marian Hossa. It is hard to defend the hit, because he did leave his feet. It wasn't a charge, because he was gliding for six feet before contact, but Torres clearly exploded up and into the hit at the end.

Torres has hit this way for years, and despite a few minor slaps on the wrist, the NHL has never punished him, so it is clear they didn't think his hitting style was that offside. Torres has to be accountable for his actions, but the NHL has never handed him a really stiff suspension, so for me they are just as guilty. 

Torres has been suspended indefinitely and will have a hearing on Friday. Until then I'm sure we will see, hear and read a wide array of opinions on how many games he'll get. I suspect it will be significant, and I'll be fine with that, but it disgusts me reading opinions from people suggesting this is the worst hit they've ever seen. It wasn't even the worst hit, cheap shot this year.

Torres hits hard and he has for years, but his hit last night wasn't as bad as what Duncan Keith did to D. Sedin in my opinion. 

Keith elbowed Sedin in the head with the intent to seriously injure him. It was a blatant chicken-wing elbow, and we see that play way more than we see Torres' hits. The problem is the NHL still allows guys to flail elbows at the opponents head.

Torres will pay for his crime, and I'm fine with that, but if the NHL doesn't decide to ban the chicken-wing elbow then we will continue to see stupid plays and unfortunate injuries.

PARTING SHOTS 

  • Had Hossa bounced up right away from that hit, I'm not sure people would be as upset, but the image of him being taken out on a stretcher makes the entire play much worse for people. I understand that, and respect that train of thought, but it also shows how fine of a line the game is played on.

    I think with the speed of the game it is hard to expect players to play that fast and never make wrong decisions. Torres hit Hossa less than a second after he moved the puck. That is incredibly quick, and when you consider how fast players skate, I truly wonder if it is possible to allow body contact and not expect some collisions to be late or egregious.
     
  • I feel the speed of the game has become the most dangerous part. The problem is the speed is what makes the game so exciting. If we slow it down, do we lose excitement?

    I don't have the answer, but instead of wasting hours and hours re-hashing suspension talk, or if fighting should be in the game, I think we need to start researching if it is possible to have hockey played at such high speeds and be incident free.
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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#1 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
April 18 2012, 01:00PM
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I wonder what it is that's so different about the first round that gives the road team an advantage.

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#2 LoDog
April 18 2012, 01:21PM
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I'm surprised at your stance. Almost the exact same time delay as the hit on Horton last year, targeted the head,left his feet and hurt the player. Big suspension coming.

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#3 Eric
April 18 2012, 01:21PM
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Totally agree that the Torres hit wasn't as bad as it's being made out to be. Like you said, being taken off on a stretcher has people overreacting to this hit.

Asham's blatant crosscheck to Schenn's throat/head was not a hockey play, and was done in retaliation and to cause injury. Torres hit was a fraction late and although he left his feet, it was still a hockey play. It was nowhere near as bad as Asham's.

Additionally, James Neal's attempt at elbowing Giroux's head, who had a previous concussion, is more deserving of a lengthy suspension then Torres. The attempt to injure Giroux, and knock him out of the series, was clear as day. But, because Giroux got up and Hossa left on a stretcher, the outcomes will be much different.

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#4 Sliderule
April 18 2012, 01:24PM
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It is a common misconception that you have to be striding to incur a charging penalty. Rule 42charging reads A player who skates or jumps into or charges an opponent in any manner.

Torres would have violated both the jumping part and the charging part

The rat should get his just deserts

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#5 Quicksilver ballet
April 18 2012, 01:32PM
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Move the boards back 2-3 feet, it's time. Remove the instigator rule and leave the rest as is.

Liked the Torres hit. They can sew Hossa's head back on, can't they?

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#6 Oil Dude
April 18 2012, 01:43PM
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If the league is serious about getting rid of this type of hit why not try this :

When you suspend a player , the team doesn't get to use the roster spot that said player leaves.

Also if a player is hurt on the play the guy who did the deed's suspension could include the amount of time player is hurt as well.

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#7 FastOil
April 18 2012, 01:46PM
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I don't buy that there is no time to react. I don't buy it from my own playing experience. After the Chara hit, I had a chance to ask both a former high level junior, and a former pro player now coaching, about it.

They also don't buy that players don't know what they are doing because of speed or can't avoid the hits like that.

Torres' hit may not have been as egregious as the hit on Schenn, but to me it was a clear attempt to take a better player out, which it did. Torres could have let up on Hossa (because the puck was well gone and it's the right thing to do) and still checked him if he felt he needed to. It still would have been late.

It amazes me enough owners still support this kind of play. Just from a business perspective, the loss of entertainment value (losing the best players) and the loss of playoff revenue (as the Canucks and Hawks go out) doesn't make sense.

How can the Pens be doing what they are after the Crosby thing? The only answer seems to be that because the league allowed the ridiculousness of last's year's finals, the lemmings think it's the way to win the Cup now and are charging for the cliff.

Wake up Bettman.

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#8 VK63
April 18 2012, 01:46PM
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As far as the context of the hits in the flow of the games, Browns hit on Sedin was very similar, the victim had just dished the puck, both the victims lacked awareness of the incoming hits, both were vulnerable and both got ended.

Torres however, used his legs to lunge upwards and thus buttoned Hossa in the head. I found it humorous that subsequent Torres shifts saw a first year PeeWee chicken getting rid of the puck as soon as it hit his stick.

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#9 Duke
April 18 2012, 01:49PM
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To me the hit is a bit late, but one foot is still on the ice when he makes contact, and he's not really jumping and hurdling himself at Hossa as much as he is exploding into his hit. Your feet, (or at least a foot) is always going to leave the ice on such a hit.

That said, Raffi's been here before so....

There seems to be this hysteria now everytime somebody gets hit.

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#10 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
April 18 2012, 01:51PM
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Count the steamboats on the Horton hit, it was perfectly legal. It's unfortunate that Rome hit his head, but what happened to keeping your head up going across the blue? Horton was watching his pass like a doof, something that even minor hockey coaches tell kids not to do. Rome was suspended for the head contact, and that's what should have happened, but the hit wasn't late and it wouldn't have been considered 'blindside' if Horton had glanced to his right to see what Rome was doing. Horton knew that Rome gets paid millions to do exactly what he did, so I find it hard to sympathize.

Torres definitely left his feet on that hit, and it should have warranted at least a call at the time, but again: Hossa is watching the puck instead of having his head on a swivel. Both players put themselves in vulnerable positions, in my opinion.

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#11 Time Travelling Sean
April 18 2012, 01:52PM
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I liked to Torres hit at first, but it's clear he left his feet. It wasn't late at all. He was finishing his check.

Same with that Brown hit on Sedin, Hughson and Simpson were saying the league should look at it. Like Sedin had the puck, passed it then half a second later got rocked. That's worthy of a suspension now?

And the media? What a bunch of babies, you expect a bunch of players flying at 30 km/h with so much intensity with the crowd and all the expectations to not make a stupid decision? Can't have it both ways.

And ALL the violence? there has been 1200 minutes of hockey and maybe 4 incidents?

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#12 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
April 18 2012, 01:57PM
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I'm not so sure the Torres hit and the Brown hit are similar. It's tough to tell because it's hard to find real-time videos that are at the right angle, but it seems like Torres' hit was way later than Brown's.

I also totally disagree with Duke. Torres did jump, and as a result he made contact with Hossa much higher on the body than he would have if he stayed on the ice.

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#14 JimOneill
April 18 2012, 02:29PM
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SOrry to change topics but I hear a trade of Horcoff for Loungo is now available.

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#15 Referee
April 18 2012, 02:33PM
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FYI Gregor, a charge doesn't necessarily mean a player has to be taking 3 steps before hitting a player, it can also be considered a charge simply by leaving one's feet, which is exactly what Torres did before hitting Hossa.

The official rule is here http://www.nhl.com/ice/page.htm?id=26331

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#16 ralph_u
April 18 2012, 02:45PM
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I always look at what is fair by putting your teams guy as the one that got hit and then ask if suspension was/is fair. Don't have anything against Raffi liked him when he played here just think he should get some games for this one.

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#17 Dan the Man
April 18 2012, 02:48PM
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So if Torres doesn't glide into Hossa and continues skating into him is the hit still late?

Bob McKenzie said last night that anything over .5 seconds is considered late and this one was about .8 so if Torres hadn't stopped skating does that make a difference of .3 seconds? Still a headshot but maybe not a late one...

Does anyone else think the expression "the player left his feet" is a little strange? I use it all of the time myself but when you think about it literally, no one really "leaves their feet" their feet leave the ice.

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#18 Fruit Chaat
April 18 2012, 02:49PM
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Check out the Torres hit on Michalek again... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0KC91Wuz2k

Today this hit would be a guaranteed suspension, but I remember seeing that and going absolutely buckwild...

I guess the NHL has made headway in that this is a suspendable hit now, but the fact that the same hits are still happening (and at a greater frequency) leads me to believe the message isn't translating. If you want headshots out of the game, take the guys who deliver them out. 5-10 game suspensions are not a deterrent, if you want to send a message, suspend a guy for the year. A few careers may be lost, but in order to set an example you need to make an example out of someone.

Start with Torres.

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#19 Dipstick
April 18 2012, 03:06PM
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JimOneill wrote:

SOrry to change topics but I hear a trade of Horcoff for Loungo is now available.

Roberto's contract is too Luongo.

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#20 KSC10032
April 18 2012, 03:08PM
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I've been advocating this for years.

Let's face it, most of the "ususal suspects" occupy the bottom third of the roster, and, as such, can be readily replaced.

IMO -- this leads to a lot of "nudge, nudge -- wink, wink" by a lot of GMs and coaches. If a team has to play with 19, 18, ... players, then a much higher level of self-governance will evolve.

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#21 KSC10032
April 18 2012, 03:10PM
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Quotes didn't work.

I was -- of course -- referring to Oil Dude's comment (#6).

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#22 NastyNate
April 18 2012, 03:15PM
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@ Gregor

i agree with everything here, except where you claim the hit wasn't a charge. I think the gliding or more than 3 strides criteria is a little dated.

From NHL Rulebook

42.1 Charging - A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner. Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.

When a player is moving as fast as Raffi was and throws his body at someone it is wreckless and dangerous.

That being said wasn't the dirtiest play I've seen this playoff or season. Raffi needs to be suspended for awhile because he clearly doesn't understand that he plays the game in a dangerous manner.

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#23 15w40
April 18 2012, 04:29PM
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The hit was illegal - plain and simple. Puck was gone, left his feet, principle point of contact was the head - it was charging. If the rules are there use them, or change them or take them out. The NHL is far too arbitrary in the interpretation and application of the rules. The results don't help the optics and the opinion that the outrage would be less if he "bounced right back up" is correct. But.......he didn't, he left on a stretcher and is out for the foreseeable future. If the NHL wants this type of hit out of the game then nail Torres to the wall. Otherwise change the rule and its game on for these type of hits. I don't care either way, just decide already.

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#24 Pucker
April 18 2012, 06:25PM
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I liked the Raffi hit in '06 against San Jose. His hit last year on Eberle was borderline. I thought he should have been suspended, then I had to temper that with that I'm a Oiler/Eberle fan. This one, I think it was shoulder to head. I also think Hossa was doing the standard turn-away from the pass, to avoid getting hit. Raffi definetly hits to injure. 20 years ago, it wasn't too bad. Now, these guys are so big and in such good shape . . . I like hitting but these ones have to stopped.

It's like your career is on the line every time your on the ice. I don't know how these guys can enjoy it. It's scray. In the meantime, I am enjoying the hockey (I also think St. Louis Smith should be suspended for embellishing)

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#25 DSF
April 18 2012, 06:41PM
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Dipstick wrote:

Roberto's contract is too Luongo.

His contract has TWO outclasses in it.

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#26 Walter Sobchak
April 18 2012, 07:05PM
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@Quicksilver

I Completly agree Quick! Yes they can sew his head back on! Just like they did to Steve Austin! Of course with inflation he's now called the 6.6 billion dollar man.

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#27 Spydyr
April 18 2012, 07:08PM
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It was the trifecta of what the NHL says it does not want:

1) His point of contact was the head. 2) He left his feet. 3) He hit a player in a vulnerable position.

It was also borderline late. With his past history I will be surprised if he does not get enough games to cover the rest of the playoffs .Say 15 games.

I'm also all for big hits.If Torres does not leave his feet and hits him with his shoulder in the chest it might have been hit of the year.

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#28 Oilcruzer
April 18 2012, 08:31PM
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@ Spydyr (what is with this broken "Reply" gremlin?)

Yep... and....

4) Targeted a star player. 5) Long history 6) Not Borderline - Definitely Late

If he stays low and buries his shoulder in the Solar Plexis, it's effective and likely not near the issue (same as the Sedin hit)

Time to suspend players for double number of playoff games to start the next year (as well as the Playoff Suspension) so it hits their pocket book.

AND

If a team has a player suspended, that does NOT free up a roster spot on the bench to replace him.

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#29 Reg Dunlop
April 18 2012, 11:36PM
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I am not equating pro sports with pro wrestling, however: Wrestlers are ultimately responsible for each others safety. NHL players are all unified in the players association, when it comes to collective bargaining. Shouldn't the safe working conditions of its rank and file also be of primary concern?

Slap-on-the-wrists do little to discourage the small # of repeat offenders. Perhaps the NHLPA can spearhead a movement like the pens did with Matt Cooke, convincing the loose cannons that it's in everyones intrest to 'work safe'. Or maybe I'm way off base. What say you?

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#30 Oiler Al
April 18 2012, 11:38PM
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You cant slow the game down. but think if you are looking for ways to deal with some of these Rollerball Zombies... make the suspensions meaning ful. These one and three game suspensions are a waste of time. On a Torres type of hit make it 20 games.. he's a repeat offender. I think Keith should have got 10 games for his elbow on the Sister.I know the NHLPA will not accept it.. then it would be up to the players to find respect..When all the star players are injured I dont think fans will come to watch these goriilas play,,, well maybe in the southern US> and Philly.

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#31 Spydyr
April 19 2012, 07:21AM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

@ Spydyr (what is with this broken "Reply" gremlin?)

Yep... and....

4) Targeted a star player. 5) Long history 6) Not Borderline - Definitely Late

If he stays low and buries his shoulder in the Solar Plexis, it's effective and likely not near the issue (same as the Sedin hit)

Time to suspend players for double number of playoff games to start the next year (as well as the Playoff Suspension) so it hits their pocket book.

AND

If a team has a player suspended, that does NOT free up a roster spot on the bench to replace him.

I really like your idea of losing the roster spot.Really, really like it.It penalizes the team as well as the player.

The Count should make it so in the next CBA .

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#32 madjam
April 19 2012, 07:53AM
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Was it not Torres who wiped out Michalek for us , that led us to upset of San Jose and ultimately Stanley Cup finals in 2006 ? Torres hit on Hossa was at worst border line hit , as Hossa had head down . I don't like dangerous play hits , but i don't see a rule that prevents it either . This isn't touch football out there .

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#33 Spydyr
April 19 2012, 08:06AM
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madjam wrote:

Was it not Torres who wiped out Michalek for us , that led us to upset of San Jose and ultimately Stanley Cup finals in 2006 ? Torres hit on Hossa was at worst border line hit , as Hossa had head down . I don't like dangerous play hits , but i don't see a rule that prevents it either . This isn't touch football out there .

@Madjam

" but i don't see a rule that prevents it either."

1)He left his feet

2)He targeted the head.

3)It was late.

There you go three rules he broke.

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#34 gord962
April 19 2012, 11:16AM
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There is no doubt that less than 1 second is very difficult to try to hold back, however, even if Hossa still had the puck the Torres hit would have been illegal. Torres needs to change his style, period. If Matt Cooke can go from being the worst cheap shot player in the league to being in the Lady Byng discussion, Torres can learn to hit effectively without head hunting.

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#35 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
April 19 2012, 11:58AM
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DSF wrote:

His contract has TWO outclasses in it.

from wiki: clauses to circumvent the no-trade clause that allow Luongo to facilitate a trade after the fifth year and for the Canucks to also facilitate a trade after the seventh year

the 2 "outclasses" look to be nothing more than a NTC/NMC work around. the length/structure of the contract cannot change (unless new CBA allows it)

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#36 Referee
April 19 2012, 12:55PM
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I wonder if the Canucks are playing Schneider to actually protect Luongo's future with the team. Think about it this way:

If Luongo plays any more games in the LA series and loses he's the biggest goat ever and the fans hate him even more. There is nothing he can do besides winning the cup, so why not throw Schneider in, who the fans love.

By playing Schneider they are only increasing his trade market value for the willing buyer. Each game he plays, the better offer they'll get in the summer for him. If he wins, great, if he loses, oh well, we were down 3-0 so you can't expect us to win 4 straight... Nobody will pin the loss on Schneider.

If the Canucks do win versus LA I wouldn't be surprised to see Luongo back in net for game 1 versus whomever they play. They'll give him two losses, regardless of how he plays, and then go back to Schneider.

I think the Canucks are saving Luongo's image while at the same time increasing Schneider's value.

Come 2012/13 I bet you'll see Luongo still in Vancouver and Schneider pitched off to the highest bidder.

Thoughts?

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#37 madjam
April 19 2012, 02:04PM
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One foot was down , and hit was questionably late or not . I've seen many hits later then that one and worse that never got called - and i bet you have to . Now , was he aiming for head or other part is also questionable seeing as Hossa left himself in a bad position to begin with ? Looks bad on slow mo , but we are talking fractions of a second here not slow mo . I'd like to see a rule that puts muscle into dangerous and intent to injure hits, etc. , buts league wants to keep it in play and do it only discriminatelyn from what i see . He'll get a lengthy suspendtion no doubt , but what if it were a star like Weber or Eberle giving that type hit ?

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#38 Oil Kings 'n' Pretty Things
April 19 2012, 02:59PM
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@ madjam:

Uh, what?

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#39 toprightcorner
April 19 2012, 03:59PM
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Like so many others where there is contact with the head, they need to start teaching kids not to push "up" on a body check with their legs. They need to learn to be square and level when hitting.

This would result in more consistent shoulder on shoulder hits. If a players head is down, it will be open for a hit but some of that hit will be absorbed by the body as you will contact both head and body. hitting in an upward motion causes on to hit up on the head where the head absorbs most of the energy.

Players heights will come into play too for some of the giant but with 85% of the players being within a couple inches in height, hitting level without powering up with the legs should help reduce head shots as well as reduce energy in the hit itself.

It has to start with teaching the younger kids, figure out the best and safest way to hit, as well as how to take a hit, and this should eventually work itself out of the game.

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#40 toprightcorner
April 19 2012, 04:02PM
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I would like to see a large portion of the lost wages due to suspensions for head shots go to putting on clinics to train younger kids and their coaches on how to hit safely and how to absorb and take a hit properly.

If you train them properly from the beginning, it is easier to control it later on in pro careers.

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#41 cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan
April 20 2012, 07:42AM
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is it weird that i think of this little clip everytime i read a madjam/DSF post?

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