NEW YORK--Raffi Torres gets his second day in court today, something hockey fans can look forward to seeing more of in the future.
Not of Torres, necessarily. But of appeals.
It seems all but unthinkable that in the next collective bargaining agreement between NHL players and owners that the NHLPA won't insist on some kind of fair appeal mechanism being introduced for suspended players. Something, that is, more fair than what will happen today when Torres appeals his 25-game ban to commissioner Gary Bettman, who just happens to be the boss of Brendan Shanahan, the man who handed down the suspension.
How about some kind of independent review? Seems reasonable. After all, if Bettman were to reduce Torres' ban, it would be a sharp rebuke to Shanahan, who has worked very hard, if not necessarily effectively, at being the NHL's hanging judge this season.
No player has ever won an appeal of this nature, and the vast majority never bother because of the obvious conflict in the system. Bettman can say all he wants that he can objectively weigh the facts, but he can't. He's the boss of Shanahan. He gave Shanahan the job. There's no way he can say he equally represents the views of owners and players.
All that said, if there was a fair judicial review in this case, Torres would have a heckuva chance at winning based on all that happened before he received the longest suspension in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs and that which has transpired since.
It seems nearly impossible to draw logical lines between the way in which the league dealt with Torres before - a $2,500 fine and a two-game suspension for a pair of on-ice crimes prior to his April hit on Marian Hossa - and the whopper he later received. Meanwhile, other suspendable hits and incidents received, by comparison, little more than slaps on the wrist from Shanahan, either small fines or little suspensions, like the one-gamer given to Phoenix forward Martin Hanzal this week.
This isn't to excuse Torres in any way. He's a predator and repeat offender who just doesn't seem to get the fact that hitting opponents in the head when they're most vulnerable just isn't cricket any more.
But why, might you ask, isn't he getting the message? Well, it's partly because the message is hopelessly muddled, there are no standards, no specific punishments in the CBA and each decision from Shanahan borders on the completely arbitrary. If Torres were looking at lessons, he might have seen Duncan Keith's five-game ban in the final days of the NHL regular season for cold-cocking Daniel Sedin with an elbow as a warning that if he did something nasty in the post-season, he'd be looking at most at a two- or three-game suspension.
So where did 25 games come from? Shanahan would have done well to have spelt out his reasoning on the number a litte more clearly, saying this many games were for the actual hit on Hossa and this many were for the crime of being a repeat offender. But he didn't.
Again, nobody misses Torres, with the possible exception of the Coyotes. But there should be a perception of fairness about these issues. In this case, fairness seems to be lacking, both in the original decision and in Torres' only avenue of appeal.