Last night Raffi Torres steamrolled Brent Seabrook behind the Hawks net and got two minutes for interference. Instantly fans and media were reacting on twitter. The opinions ranged from "He should be suspended for the rest of the playoffs," to "It was a hard hit and guys need to keep their head up."
There is no debating that Torres hits hard. Some would say that he hits to hurt, and there might be some truth to that, but he also is one of the few players who knows can change the outcome with a big hit; whether it is clean or borderline.
Bob McKenzie pointed out in his blog how the NHL views the area behind the net as a "hitting zone", and I’m happy they do. Had the puck not bounced over Seabrook’s stick then Torres would have hit him when he had the puck. There is no way Torres could have predicted that the puck wouldn’t have touched Seabrook’s stick. On super slow motion it is clear that the initial contact was to Seabrook’s head, so it is fair to suggest it was a head shot.
My complaint about headshots is that it seems many want all the responsibility to fall on the hitter, not the guy getting hit. This is a slippery slope for the NHL, and hockey in general, because if they send the message that you don’t have to protect yourself; I suspect we will see more injuries due to headshots not less.
Of course players shouldn’t be allowed to take deliberate runs at another player’s head, and based on the data this past year blind-sided head shots were down compared to last season, but there are instances where the puck carrier/receiver needs to be responsible for keeping his head up.
When I saw the Torres hit in real time, I thought it was a hard, but not dirty, hit. After TV showed the replay over a hundred times, it was clear the initial contact was to the head, albeit it by the slimmest of margins. The players don’t play in slow motion, and that is why I’m always leery of showing the replays in slow motion, because I don’t think that is a fair way to illustrate the hit. Many times even in slow motion it doesn’t prove where the first point of contact was.
According to McKenzie and Nick Kypreos it sounds like the NHL won’t be handing out a suspension.
I don’t have an issue with that, but the bigger issue is how Seabrook was treated after the hit. He didn’t miss a shift, he didn’t have to go to a "quiet room" and get looked at, and a few shifts later Torres landed a perfectly clean shoulder hit that seemed to stun Seabrook, and only then did he leave the bench and go to the "quiet room."
The biggest issue with headshots is diagnosing them properly. Of course Seabrook didn’t want to leave the bench in a playoff game to get checked out. Guys are competitive, and when their adrenaline is flowing they will convince themselves they feel fine, even if they are seeing stars.
The Torres hit illustrated that the NHL still has a long ways to go in finding the line between a clean hit, or a suspendable one, and more importantly, they need to find a better protocol on evaluating a player after he has been hit hard.
With the speed of the game increasing every year, I’m not sure there will ever be a perfect solution, and while this might sound insensitive, I think that is a big part of what makes the game exciting. The potential of a big hit is what makes the game so exciting at times, and if that is what we like about the game, then the reality is that at times a player will deliver an illegal hit.
I don’t ever want to see a player get injured, but I do like seeing big hits, and because of that I expect that we will see borderline ones now and again.
That is exciting and dangerous at the same time.