By Stu Hackel
Headshot Theatre is staying open late this season, maybe all the way into the playoffs, as Raffi Torres of the Canucks clobbered the Oilers' Jordan Eberle in the video above during Tuesday night's 2-0 Edmonton victory. The blow earned Torres a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. We'll learn sometime before Thursday, when the Canucks host the Wild, if Torres will be suspended.
Looking repeatedly at all three angles on the replay, it's not clear that Torres actually led with his elbow. In fact, it looks more like contact was made with his shoulder. And if Hockey Ops sees it that way, too, Torres might not get any time off. Or he might, since Eberle's head was targeted. Or he might not, because he was traveling north-south, which removes the blindside element. Hey, you never know.
As to whether Torres will be gone for the first round of the playoffs -- which is what Matt Cooke got for his elbow to the head of the Rangers' Ryan McDonagh, and what the Oilers TV crew was calling for -- the fact that Torres is not a recidivist probably works in his favor.
What is clear is that Torres hit Eberle in the head. Eberle was bent over, reaching for the puck, and it's one of those hits that will be debated during the offseason, or at least should be if the NHL is truly serious about whether it wants to expand the scope of penalizing hits to the head.
Most significant is what Torres said after the game (quoted in The Vancouver Province) while denying that he did anything wrong: “I’ve only seen it a couple times and it looks like he’s got his head down and he’s reaching for the puck. If I had my elbow up, I don’t think he’d be out on the next shift. It’s in the ref’s hands. He’s got to call the first thing he sees. I still don’t know if it was that call, but if he sees that, he’s got to give me a five and a game. The way the league has changed in the last five or six years, if I don’t finish my hit, I’m going to be out of a job. At the end of the day, I’m not trying to hurt anybody out there. It’s the last thing I want to do.”
That's the dilemma the NHL faces. People who put the onus on the puck-carrier to keep his head up and who baldly say that they want to keep that kind of hit in the game, even if the checker deliberately makes contact with the puck-carrier's head, will see this as "a hockey play." They'll excuse any potential damage that results, even if it means trauma and the chance of long-term consequences like degenerative brain disease and early dementia.
But a bullet was dodged here: Eberle seemed to be fine afterward. Not everyone is that fortunate.