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Coming To The Defense Of Raffi Torres And Why The NHL Should Keep The Book On The Shelf

Raffi Torres has been one of the Coyotes' most exciting players this year, and has continued to be in the 2012 NHL Playoffs. But now, Torres' aggressive play has landed him in some hot water.

During the Coyotes Game 3 matchup against the Blackhawks, Torres knocked out Hawks leading scorer Marian Hossa with a center ice hit. A stretcher came out and the crowd of 20,000 plus went quiet, with the exception of the spattering of boos for the referees who did not make a call on the play.

It is almost certain that the the NHL and the Shanhammer will throw the book at the 30-year-old Torres, but is that what should be done? Will Torres' hit be the straw that breaks the camel's back and force the Brendan Shanahan and the NHL to make an example of Torres, suspending him for the remainder of the postseason?

Video of the hit after the jump.

Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa. Chicago Blackhawks vs Phoenix Coyotes 4/17/12 NHL Hockey (via Fred Murtz)

No one wants to see a player taken off on a stretcher. When a stretcher gets involved the nature of the incident changes.

This postseason has been one of the bloodiest in recent memory. We have seen multiple five-on-five brawls, New York's Brian Boyle got beat down while not defending himself, and two elite teams racked up 158 penalty minutes on 38 penalties in a single game.

But Torres' incident is different. There was a genuine worry for Marian Hossa's health. However, should the result of the play warrant a greater punishment?

Torres talked about the hit in a news conference after the game saying, "First off, I hope he's all right," ... "But as far as the hit goes, I just felt like it was a hockey play. Just trying to finish my hit out there."

Obviously, the hit has resulted in some strong emotions.

Tyson Nash, former Coyote player turned broadcaster, has recieved death threats via Twitter for saying the hit was, "as clean of a hit as you're going to get" on the air as the incident happened.

"I wish I didn't say what I said," Nash said. "When you see Hossa lying there longer and longer, you say, 'Oh jeez, let's really take a closer look at this.' I thought he was going to get right back up. Obviously that wasn't the case."

I was watching the hit live as Nash said that comment, and I agreed with him. Hossa clearly took only two strides and then is sent to the ice by the shoulder of Torres. Torres did not appear to leave the ice, but it was evident through slow motion replay Torres did in fact launch himself into Hossa.

It brought back memories of the Scott Stevens hit on Paul Kariya in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. Kariya, one of the leagues biggest stars, was obliterated by the Devil's captain at center ice. No one who saw that will ever forget the moment that Kariya regained consciousness and his breath hit his visor.

Stevens was not suspended, or even penalized on the play. Kariya even returned to play that game.

While the Stevens' hit may be too dated as an example, you don't have to look further than Saturday's Penguins and Flyers game for another example. James Neal had a nearly identical hit on Sean Couturier during Game 3 and was not suspended or penalized.

Neal was however suspended one game for charging Claude Giroux later in the same sequence.

Torres did so much more for the Coyotes this year than his 15 goals and 11 assist that showed up on the stat sheet. He was a grinder. A guy that would go into the corner with anybody to dig a puck out, or deliver a big hit to change the momentum of the game. To be cliché, Torres is a guy who you hate to play against, but love to have on your team. It would be a major stretch to label him a "goon."

The NHL has been wildly inconsistent this postseason with suspensions. This comes after a regular season that had nearly no complaints, and Shanahan explained the reasoning for every suspension by releasing a video to the public.

I was scratching my head when Andrew Shaw was suspended three games for his hit on Mike Smith in Game 2. I thought he may get a single game, or even a fine, but not three games. There is a chance he will not see the ice again this season.

This becomes even more puzzling when you look at what Shea Weber did to Henrik Zetterberg. The Preadtor captain smashed the head of Zetterberg into the glass after the buzzer, and received only a slap on the wrist and a fine.

Weber's hit was a far cry from a hockey play, yet he remained scott-free. Big hits are hockey plays. When kids begins playing hockey, one of the first things you are taught is to keep your head up and on a swivel over the middle of the ice.

Blackhawk's captain Jonathan Toews, who is a returning from a concussion himself, weighed in on the incident and possible suspension Wednesday.

"Who knows?" Toews said. "I don't know what to expect anymore. I don't think anyone does. So we'll see, it will probably be a surprise."

It was evident that Torres felt genuine remorse after the hit. He shied away from contact for the remainer of the game and his mind was visibly elsewhere.

What's not in Torres' favor is that he is a repeat offender, and Hossa did not return to the game. The stretcher also adds to the severity of the incident, and the hit may become the defining moment of a what has been a historically violent postseason.

The good news was the Hossa left the hospital Tuesday night under his own power, and is recovering from the hit.

Torres was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday with the NHL, but the hearing has been rescheduled at Torres' request for Friday. This means he will miss at least Thursday's game and Torres will be listed as indefinitely suspended until the meeting takes place.

The meeting will take place in-person at the NHL's New York Office. An in-person meeting could result in a suspension of more than five games.

Things look grim for Torres. Right now he is less likely to avoid the book than a librarian. Torres is a essential part of the Coyotes lineup, and the energy he brings to the ice will be missed.