When Brendan Shanahan took over the NHL Dept. of Player Safety, his mantra wasn’t about punitive damages but reforming behavior.
Hence, the handful of players that were repeat offenders would be targeted more stringently than first-time offenders, with the hope that they’d wise up and play a different style if they wanted to remain in the NHL.
Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins saw the light after his 10-game suspension for elbowing Ryan McDonough in the head back in 2011. He realized he was being a detriment to his team. He identified the root of his aggression. As a result, he changed his ways and had no major penalties in his last 113 games.
He also provided a road map for Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes to finally correct his course in the NHL.
“He looked different. He wasn’t reckless, but he was still bringing the same energy and emotion that’s kept him in the game,” Torres told The Province this week.
After serving his time for putting Marian Hossa on a stretcher last postseason, Torres has just 13 penalty minutes in 22 games, which includes a 5-minute fighting major for a following-the-code tussle with Jamal Mayers of the Chicago Blackhawks, atoning for the Hossa hit. It’s his only major of the season.
Has the man who defended his hit on Hossa as a “hockey play” finally seen the light?
Here’s what Torres told The Province:
“I can’t be running around in my own zone and coming down to make that big hit. But that’s where I get a lot of my energy with the wingers coming up the wall, and it’s tough because now I’ve got to play defence all the time. Sometimes, I just want to go across the ice and finish a hit and I know I can do that. But it’s at the point where if I do that, I’ll be sitting on the bench.That outlook, plus a newborn son, have combined to make a gentler, kinder Raffi Torres. And we had no idea those words could co-exist in the same sentence either ...
“The league is going in the right direction. The game is so fast. I don’t think people realize that I’m 215 pounds, and if I hit somebody even at three-quarters speed, it’s a fine line when you’re hitting with the shoulder to not target the head. I get into trouble leaving my feet and even with the defenceman, I almost want them to then know that I’m there. I want them to see me there, but I’ve still got to throw the hit.”
The credit should go to Torres for identifying how he needs to play in order to stay on the ice in the modern game. But the credit also goes to Shanahan and the Dept. of Player Safety, which not only has educated players and fans regarding standards of enforcement for the last two seasons, but can claim to have changed the ways of Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres -- something previously thought possible through shock therapy and/or “Clockwork Orange”-like re-education.