By Jason Menard
It takes a lot to besmirch the name Raffi. The Vancouver Canucks’ version is not only managing to do that, but he’s also shown that he may not even be as smart as the original Raffi’s target audience.
Raffi Number One is a global troubadour! The Egyptian-born Canadian has had a career out of entertaining children, mixing in social and environmental messaging and world music. Raffi Number Two, Canucks’ winger Raffi Torres, is also a Canadian. But that’s where the similarities end.
The Canucklehead just got back from a four-game suspension that he earned for an illegal hit on Jordan Eberle at the end of the NHL’s regular season. And “just got back” isn’t a figure of speech. Yesterday marked his first game back in the line-up.
So how did Torres celebrate his return to on-ice action? How did he choose to support his team, one that’s a Stanley Cup favourite in many viewers’ eyes, during this playoff run? By laying out the Chicago Blackhawks’ Bret Seabrook behind the net and likely earning a long-term suspension.
Losing Torres isn’t crippling to the Canucks, although he can be a valuable player when placed in the right role. In 2005/06 he scored 27 goals for the Edmonton Oilers, and he tends to hover around the 15-goal mark, give or take a few. He also brings a bit of grit to the Canucks’ roster – a characteristic that’s greatly welcomed during a hard-fought best-of-seven playoff series.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, that grit will likely be out of the lineup for a couple of weeks – and if the NHL is serious about cracking down on head shots, then Torres should have to pay for a ticket if he wants to be in the building for any of the remaining games in Vancouver’s 2011 playoff season.
Torres said all the right things leading up to the game; too bad he didn’t follow through on them. In an interview with the CBC on Saturday, Torres said that he would “try to be a little wiser about when I make that play,” – that play being a hit on an opponent with their heads down in their zone. So what did he do? Ran at Seabrook, who was skating behind his own net, with his head down.
You can argue all you want about whether it was a clean hit, a dirty play, good old-time hockey, or all that’s wrong with the league today. Torres should have been smarter. He just came back from a suspension, the NHL has been inundated with criticism about the alarming number of hits to the head, and the Canucks are one of the glamour teams in this year’s playoffs – facing off against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Yes, Seabrook does bear some responsibility for this play. Today’s players seem to ignore one of the most basic rules that we were taught as minor-leaguers: keep your head up at all times. Torres should have known that a few eyes would be on him. He should know that every play would be scrutinized to the nth degree. He should have known that even a borderline call would draw added attention.
This was more than a borderline call. If the NHL wants to protect its assets – anyone seen Sidney Crosby lately? – then they have to get extremely tough. Is it fair that Torres is the scapegoat? Absolutely. He made a stupid mistake and was lucky that Seabrook wasn’t injured more.
Torres also said, “the main thing is just not to lose my head out there.” Unfortunately, he didn’t extend that thought to not taking off someone else’s. If the players won’t respect each other on their own, the league simply has to step in. The burden must lie on the player delivering the body check. Size differentials, head down, angles – it doesn’t matter. If you’re going to hit someone you have to ensure you’re doing it the right way.
And scapegoat or no, Torres should be put out to pasture for the remainder of the NHL playoffs.