You've Just Gotta Marvel At The Circus
I'm in a good mood, so let's look for the silver lining.
And that would be that with Raffi Torres' Houdini-like escape from all sensible laws of hockey justice, there won't be a fan in Vancouver today buying into any of the silly conspiracy theories that have in the past circulated this time of year about the NHL wanting Chicago to beat the Canucks or how Mike Murphy wants the Kings to win or any nonsense like that.
See. Don't you feel better already?
Actually, what was really heartening about the reaction to the Torres' patently illegal hit and rather obvious violation of the NHL's head shot rule - obvious to everyone but the NHL, that is - was the large number of Vancouver fans who emailed or tweeted and said while they support their team, they felt Torres should receive a significant suspension for his cheap shot on Brent Seabrook.
Thank you, Vancouver!
Now, to the meat of the NHL's decision, or non-decision, or whatever this can be termed, since there's no official word from the league on why Torres will be out headhuntin' as usual for Game 4 of the Chicago-Vancouver series.
In a ruling eerily reminiscent of the 1999 Brett Hull toe-in-the-crease-but-it's-okay ruling, the league apparently dug deep into its files of memos and off-the-cuff remarks and came up with a magical reason to keep Torres skating. Hull, you remember, was in the crease on his Cup-winning goal against Buffalo after a season in which dozens of goals hadn't been allowed for that very reason. But after the television cameras invaded the ice and bedlam ensued, the NHL decided it couldn't even review the goal and instead held the funniest press conference of all time in which Bryan Lewis produced a magical memo detailing a "continuous possession" rule that made the Hull goal a good one.
In the Torres-Seabrook case, the ruling is apparently that because the hit took place behind the Chicago net, the rules that usually apply on illegal hits didn't apply, that this is a special hitting zone in which otherwise illegal play is okay. League disciplinarian Colin Campbell took the unusual step of releasing an explanation of why Torres wasn't suspended in which he said that there was never any intention to make Rule 48 - the blindside head shot rule - apply to hits involving forecheckers hitting defencemen behind the net.
"We distributed a video to all players and teams that showed a similar hit on a defenceman by an attacking forward coming from the opposite direction behind the net and stated this is a 'legal play,'" he said in the release.
Now, the Torres/hitting zone ruling might come as a bit of a surprise to Jarret Stoll given that he was given a one-game suspension last week for hitting San Jose's Ian White into the glass behind the net. So the "hitting zone" - "separate head from body zone?" - area apparently doesn't extend all the way from the goal line to the glass, but just to some ill-defined area immediately behind the net.
Having been now to three of four GMs meetings and NHL board of governors meetings at which head shots and concussions were extensively discussed, I can assure you I've never, EVER heard of any special rules for hits behind the net. Several NHL managers were mystified about this concept when contacted.
Of course, one of the more celebrated incidents that started the current head shot debate came in the OHL two seasons ago when Mike Liambas fractured the skull of Kitchener's Ben Fanelli with a hit into the end glass behind the net.
Liambas was booted out of the league for good for that hit. No special hitting zone area was in play. But that was the OHL.
Where this special NHL understanding or ruling - another magic memo! - came from is anyone's guess. Torres' hit was from the blindside, Seabrook was unsuspecting and vulnerable, it was a shoulder to the head, and it was of the kind that GM after GM argued at the most recent winter meetings that the "league just doesn't need." Totally gratuitous, nothing to do with pursuing the puck, and dangerous.
It was Matt Cooke on Marc Savard - the same hit - except that it took place in a different part of the ice surface.
Seabrook's error, one supposes, is that his skull didn't crack, and that he wasn't carted off on a stretcher.
Under this interpretation of the NHL rules, apparently anything goes back of the cage. it's the equivalent of a dark alley. Don't want to get mugged? Don't go in there.
That's fine, I suppose, but shouldn't it have come up before? it's weird. The NHL creates the rules, then itself seems to search for loopholes and reasons not to enforce the very rules it created.
On one hand, the Torres ruling is kind of funny. It's like the circus; one can only marvel at the acts.
It's truly amazing how many times this league can make itself look utterly ridiculous, promising to crack down on something and then doing the opposite. There's no point being particularly bothered about it; they're the ones hurting themselves. It's similar to why I can't muster any sympathy for those who suffered facial injuries that would have been easily preventable if they'd only had the common sense to wear a visor.
But it's also kind of sad. The league's GMs and governors, in their desperation to attract the UFC-minded while fighting terrible attendance problems throughout the league, are dancing as fast as they can, trying to allow some head hits while outlawing others with rules few can articulate or understand. So confusion reigns.
Eventually, as in the OHL, all hits to the head in the NHL will be illegal. But these guys will keep dancing this dance as long as possible, forcing Colin Campbell to apply these bizarre and convoluted rules that make little or no sense. The NHL rulebook expands and expands, and while doing so makes less and less sense.
Along the way, as was the case before the lockout, those who run the league are determined to protect the lowest common denominator, the Raffi Torres players of the league, and ignore the safety concerns of the talented players, the Brent Seabrook types.
But let's end on another nice note, another silver lining.
At least Cooke won't feel alone anymore. In Torres, he's got a buddy, somebody who plays the game exactly the same way. And Cooke could be back in action next week if the Penguins advance to the next round.