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Did San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson Try To Pull A Fast One In Statement On Torres Suspension?

COMMENTARY: Over the last few weeks, the Los Angeles Kings have been involved in two incidents involving blows to the head of a player. Both times, the player who was hit suffered an injury, and in each case, a player was suspended. Perhaps even worse, both incidents have shined a bright light on the fact that it isn’t just fans who don’t know the rules, but apparently, National Hockey League players, coaches and general managers don’t either, and the fault for that falls squarely on the shoulders of the NHL.


LA Kings center Jarret Stoll.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/FrozenRoyalty.net

LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Almost one month ago, Los Angeles Kings winger Dustin Brown was suspended two games, without pay, for elbowing Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville at 10:04 of the second period in a game at Minnesota on April 23, a 2-1 Wild victory.

No penalty was called on the play.

Just prior to, and immediately after the decision by National Hockey League Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan was announced, the vast majority of Kings fans were up in arms about the decision, claiming it was a clean hit, and that Brown was a victim of circumstance because of Pominville’s positioning as he approached Brown (slightly low).

Others claimed that supplementary discipline was not warranted because there was no intent involved on Brown’s part.

Fast forward to May 14…Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals with the Kings hosting the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center, when Sharks winger Raffi Torres hit Kings center Jarret Stoll with a heavy blow to the head.

As one might expect, the majority of Kings fans cried foul immediately, while most Sharks fans believed it was a clean hit.

Of course, loyalties influence how people see things. Nevertheless, it is both shocking and deeply disappointing to see how people can have such diametrically opposing views of the same incident, the same video footage.

In fact, even the players and coaches from the two teams had completely different views.

Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said he thought the hit by Torres on Stoll was “careless.”

“I think everyone in this room will probably not be happy about it, and everyone in their room is OK with it,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “It’s up to what the league thinks.”

As for what the Sharks thought, Brown was dead on.

Immediately after the hit, Sharks players, along with head coach Todd McLellan, were adamant that the hit was clean, stating that it was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.

“I was on the ice, right beside it,” said Sharks center Logan Couture. “I thought it was shoulder-to-shoulder, a clean hit. Obviously, [Stoll] was injured on the play, so you hope the other guy is OK, but from what I saw, it was a clean hit.”

“I was surprised there was even a penalty on the play,” added Couture. “He didn’t charge him. He was two feet away from him when he hit him.”

“We questioned the call on the charging penalty, to be honest with you,” said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. “We were kind of shocked today to hear that he has to fly to New York for a hearing, because we didn’t see anything wrong on the play.”

“It’s unfortunate that Jarret was hurt, but we just thought it was a clean hit,” he added. “It looked to us like it was shoulder-to-shoulder. Jarret was down a little bit low, and Raffi just finished his check.”

On May 16, Torres was in New York, accompanied by Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, for an in-person hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. As a result of that hearing, Torres was suspended for the remainder of the Western Conference Semifinals.

Shanahan ruled that Torres made initial contact with Stoll’s shoulder, but the principal point of contact was Stoll’s head, making the hit illegal, a violation of Rule 48.1:

Rule 48.1 – A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted. However, in determining whether such a hit should have been permitted, the circumstances of the hit, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit or the head contact on an otherwise legal body check was avoidable, can be considered.

As the video provided by the league conclusively shows (see below), Torres did indeed make initial contact with Stoll’s right shoulder. However, there was much greater contact with Stoll’s head—Torres’ left shoulder made full contact with Stoll’s head.

Stoll suffered a suspected concussion, and is not expected to return anytime soon. One indication of that is that his locker stall in the Kings dressing room at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California (their practice facility) is now occupied by forward prospect Linden Vey, one of the Kings’ “Black Aces.”

Apparently still fuming about the loss of his player, Wilson issued a statement on May 17, supporting Torres and heavily criticizing Shanahan’s decision.

“The Sharks organization fully supports the NHL in its efforts to remove illegal and dangerous hits from the game, but we strongly disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Raffi Torres,” Wilson said in a statement.

“Upon review of the incident, it is abundantly clear that this was a clean hockey hit,” Wilson added. “As noted by the NHL, Raffi’s initial point of contact was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on an opponent who was playing the puck. He did not leave his feet or elevate, he kept his shoulder tucked and elbow down at his side, and he was gliding—not skating or charging.”

Already, it is crystal-clear that Wilson either does not understand Rule 48.1, or he is making a poor and blatantly obvious, yet deceptive attempt to placate Sharks fans by standing up to the league.

In the above paragraph, Wilson said that Torres’ “…initial point of contact was a shoulder-to-shoulder hit.” But Rule 48.1 says nothing about the initial point of contact. Rather, it specifies the principal point of contact.

To be sure, “principal” and “initial” are not interchangeable, as they do not mean the same thing.

From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

Principal – adjective (prin·ci·pal) \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\

1: most important, consequential, or influential: chief

Ini·tial – adjective \i-ˈni-shəl\

1: of or relating to the beginning: incipient

2: placed at the beginning: first

Wilson goes further off the deep end.

“As stated in the NHL’s Player Safety video, Rule 48.1 says, ‘A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head is targeted and the principal point of contact is not permitted.’”

“Thus, with the use of the word ‘and,’ this rule clearly states that two elements must occur in order to violate the rule. Raffi absolutely did not target his opponent’s head on the play. The call on the ice specifically acknowledged that the head was not targeted and nowhere in the NHL’s ruling does it insinuate or suggest that the opponent’s head was targeted.”

Wilson’s interpretation of Rule 48.1 is both ludicrous and disingenuous, and his argument is fatally flawed and utterly transparent.

Indeed, what Wilson is saying is that for the rule to apply, a player must act with premeditation. That is, he must go into the hit with the specific intent of hitting a player in the head, and make it the initial point of contact.

As Colonel Sherman T. Potter would often say in the classic television series, M*A*S*H

Horse hockey.

If Wilson really believes that interpretation of Rule 48.1, he would be akin to a strict constructionist when it comes to interpreting the Constitution of the United States. Of course, neither the Congress of the United States, nor the American judicial system, operate by strictly interpreting that living document.

Rule 48.1 could certainly be interpreted as Wilson suggests. However, that was not the interpretation, nor was it the spirit of the rule as it was intended to be when it was approved by the NHL Board of Governors.

As such, Wilson’s interpretation of the rule is desperate, lame, and ill-conceived. After all, if intent was required as a criterion, Rule 48.1 would be totally useless, as intent would be impossible to prove in virtually every case.

Where Wilson’s intent becomes transparent is in the statement’s attempt to deceive. Again, he incorrectly referred to the initial point of contact, which is not part of the rule. As such, Wilson is claiming for the rule to be applied, a player must have intentionally targeted a players’ head and the head must be the initial point of contact.

The result of that would be an even greater watering down of the rule, making it even more useless. It would also make for a very convenient argument, to be sure. After all, if that was the way the rule actually read, Torres would be cleared on both counts.

Is Wilson, like so many others, that ignorant of the rules? Or is he banking on the fact that since so many fans (throughout the league, not just in San Jose) don’t know the rules, that by releasing this inaccurate, flawed statement, he’ll make himself and the Sharks franchise look good and appease their fans?

While the former may or may not be true, the latter is very likely to be. After all, Wilson went on to say, “…Raffi does not want to be a distraction to his teammates and has decided not to appeal this suspension and we respect that decision.”

What? Neither Torres or the Sharks will appeal the suspension, even though they made such a strong case (in their eyes) against it, and further, that it could be on shaky ground without a specific number of games for the suspension (could be a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement)?

Really?

All that does is add a rather foul stench to Wilson’s words. After all, Wilson was adamant in his statement that the hit was clean, and that the league screwed up in its investigation, not to mention its application of Rule 48.1. Remember, he said that they, “…strongly disagree with the NHL’s decision to suspend Raffi Torres.”

If they really believed that they had such a strong case, Torres and Wilson would have already begun the appeal process. The fact that they will not appeal casts tremendous doubt about their true motivations in this matter.

UPDATE – 2:37 PM PDT: The NHL has fined the Sharks for the comments made by Wilson in the public statement, referenced (linked above) in this story. In their announcement of the fine, the league stated, “The fine was issued for violation of League Rules that prohibit formal team statements to the media during the 48-hour period following a disciplinary decision. The Rule calls for an automatic fine of $25,000. The Sharks were fined an additional $75,000 under Article 6 of the League’s Constitution due to the inappropriate nature of the comments.”

Reform and Education Are Needed

While it is fairly obvious that Wilson was trying to pull a fast one just to placate Sharks fans, when you go back to the point of how the view of fans, players and general managers can be so diametrically opposed in such cases, and then you look again at Wilson’s cleverly crafted (but still transparent) statement that tried to take advantage of the general lack of knowledge about the rules, one conclusion must be noted…

This is all the league’s fault.

As I wrote after the Brown/Pominville incident last month, despite the league’s noble efforts over the past couple of years, supplementary discipline in the NHL is as much of a joke as it ever was.

Whether it is due to inconsistency in rulings on similar incidents, or simple ignorance of the rules, fans, media and pundits, right on up to players, coaches, and general managers—all still have virtually no clue about what is worthy of a fine or suspension and what isn’t.

Although the NHL has made some efforts to educate everyone about the rules, more must be done. A bigger problem is the inconsistency in rulings on similar incidents. Much of that is due to the fact that injuries, and their severity, are factors that are considered in supplementary discipline decisions.

Again, as I wrote a few weeks ago, this is where the NHL has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Indeed, if the NHL ever decides to really get serious about deterring bad hits and stick-related incidents, whether they are the result of malicious intent, or just recklessness, they must stop making the result of such incidents a major factor in such decisions. Instead, the act itself should be the determining factor. After all, similar, if not almost identical incidents can cause different injuries, varying degrees of injury, or no injury at all.

The result of such incidents has absolutely no bearing on whether or not malicious intent was involved, if it was the result of recklessness, or the degree of recklessness.

As such, there is a clear need to eliminate the use of the result to determine what the appropriate punishment is, not to mention the length of any suspension. Instead, such decisions should be based on the act itself. That would lead to everyone, especially the players, coaches, and general managers, understanding what is allowed, and what isn’t. It would also make it clear what the consequences are for crossing the line, as opposed to now, when the frequently joked about “NHL Wheel of Justice” is just as good at making supplementary discipline decisions as anyone else.

NHL Player Safety Decision on Raffi Torres Suspension

 


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22 Responses to Did San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson Try To Pull A Fast One In Statement On Torres Suspension?

  1. Puckboy25 says:

    Great article, very good points !

  2. Mike Troup says:

    Your point about Wilson being akin to a strict constitutionalist if he truly believed his own statement is COMPLETELY bass akwards! You make a long, involved and rational argument for a STRICT interpretation of the relevant rule, based on an attempt to understand the thinking and intent of those who wrote the law. The rules of the league, like the Constition, are not ‘living documents’. I don’t think you even know what that term means anyhow. The rules, like the Constitution itself, are SET IN STONE. They are what they are. If you don’t like either, you need to lobby to change them- not work for judicial activism. Wilson is actually acting like a Progressive/Liberal- changing the law based on their interpretation of what it should mean in this moment, not what it ACTUALLY SAYS as you very skillfully pointed out.
    Otherwise, a good article.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      The point was that Wilson tried to use a strict interpretation of Rule 48.1 when he focused on the use of “and” in the rule. A strict interpretation was never the intent, in this case.

    • MickSorely says:

      Check your political statement there. BOTH parties bend the law to suit their needs. See Bush/Cheney and their “interpretation” of executive order.

      • Gann Matsuda says:

        Don’t know what you’re referring to. The story doesn’t mention any political party or group, or even whether someone might be conservative or liberal.

    • Matt George says:

      heh … no the logic works see … cuz .. you shouldn’t think of us as a nation of “laws”

      think of them more as “suggestions”

    • Jorgen says:

      Great article, GM. As for the “SET IN STONE” comment by Mike Troup: you pretty much contradict yourself with such comment and follow it up with “lobby to change them”. Set in stone means you cannot amend, addend or alter the rule in any way, ever. That is set in stone. Neither the Constitution or the NHL rules are set in stone. They are altered with amendments at certain times when the need and support arise and are considered “living documents” because of it and for the fact that they never expire.

  3. MickSorely says:

    Great article! Well done FR!

    -MickSorely

  4. Pingback: Doug Wilson preaches to choir _/ . MCSORLEY'S STICK _/ . | MCSORLEY'S STICK

  5. cj says:

    wtf?? are you insane???
    you say”Wilson’s interpretation of Rule 48.1 is both ludicrous and disingenuous, and his argument is fatally flawed and utterly transparent.”
    “Wilson’s interpretation of the rule is desperate, lame, and ill-conceived. After all, if intent was required as a criterion, Rule 48.1 would be totally useless, as intent would be impossible to prove in virtually every case.”

    it is truly unbelievable to read yer amazing bullshit

    how can one take away the fact of initial point of contact, while the impact on stolls shoul;der with torres shoulder whiplashed his own head, that was clearly up and stoll placed himself in a careless vulnerable postition.
    Principal – adjective (prin·ci·pal) \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\

    1: most important, consequential, or influential: chief

    Ini·tial – adjective \i-ˈni-shəl\

    1: of or relating to the beginning: incipient

    2: placed at the beginning: first

    it was totally stated that the initial point of contact was not the head,
    clearly principal declares, the first , most important, the beginning.
    clearly shanahan and you have interpreted wrong and thinks principal means intent, when it does not.
    pretty easy to declare that by definition
    principal is initial, and is not not the byproduct or consequence or intent of intial.
    shanny blew off initial contact as a glancing blow and turned principal into intent, never applying how the hit player put himself into a vulnerable position. besides who plays the puck with their hand while they are on their feet with a stick 6 ft from the D blueline in traffic. stoll has a concussion history because he is a careless player, it aint cause he has been the recipient of illegal hits to his head.
    torres is a repeat offender from illegal hits to the head, 5 min majors with gm miscons.
    ya do that ya ger hearings and suspensions.
    YOU DONT GET HEARINGS FOR A 2 MIN MINOR. if this was an illegal hit why not the 5 and a gm?? why wernt the kings on the ice furious and attacking torres? why did stoll get up immediately into torres face and skate to bench?? he wasnt laid out, helped off.
    it was a bullshit call, a clean hit, and bigger bullshit discipline hearing buy a former big hitter, whinner crybaby in shanahan. having him for player discipline is like giving the convict a badge.
    GET REAL SCRIBE, READ YER OWN POSTED DEFINITION STICK TO THE FACTS
    AND THE FACT IS YER DEAD WRONG, BIASED AND INCAPABLE OF COMPREHENDING THE TRUTH

  6. Lol, we clearly know which side you are on. You complain about people being “biased” and then you write an article that is clearly so far 1-sided. Can you honestly say looking at that video that the head was targeted in the hit? Torres never at any point changes his directory or body positioning until contact has already been made. Torres was going for a hit, even made first contact with the players body and then due to Stoll’s position the follow through makes major contact with the head. So we can agree that the majority of this hit was taken to the head but how can you honestly argue there was any intent. Stoll put himself in a vulnerable position and it clearly shows in the video. Torres was simply going for a body check and Stoll’s whole “deer in headlights” action caused his head to be where his shoulder should have been. I understand I may have a bit of a bias as well but look on message boards around the league. Majority of neutral people think the suspension was BS. He was suspended because his name is Raffi Torres, not because of the hit he made. Same hit made by Anze Kopitar guarantee no suspension let alone 3-6 playoff games. That was an absurd amount.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      It’s quite sad to see people who are so blinded by their fandom that they are incapable of seeing the truth.

      The video shows, conclusively, that while Torres first made contact with Stoll’s shoulder, the primary, or principal point of contact was Stoll’s head, which took the brunt of the hit.

      Those denying that are the biased ones. The video proves that.

  7. And to add to my above statement Don Cherry agrees, as do the people on the poll of the page. Check out this link, and you’ll see a “neutral” persons position on the play.

    http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Playoffs/SanJose/2013/05/17/20831796.html?cid=rsssportsslam!

  8. Benjamin Ing says:

    Thank you Mr. Wilson or the kind donation to the players fund by the San Jose Sharks. It will come in handy when Mr. Torres does manage to end the career of an NHL player with his reckless play.

  9. Gann Matsuda says:

    Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser posted a response to this story on LinkedIn (see LinkedIn discussion)

    The following was his response:

    “The entire hockey community needs to clearly understand and accept that hits such as this where the head of an opponent is signifantly contact, regardless of the presence of injury, will result in a suspension!”

  10. shiny says:

    I think if the Office of Player Safety could at least achieve consistency, then people would be less inclined to whine and pick apart videos and rulings.

    The only thing I slightly disagree with is the fact that an injury occurred is an automatic suspension. While I do agree that a suspension should be assessed based on the recklessness of the play and not whether an injury occurred or not (e.g. Nash/ Kopecky), I think there could be an exception if the player is severely injured, it’s a career ending injury (not an accumulation from previous injuries, but the actual injury itself) or possibly if the player requires a stretcher to leave the ice (i.e. Torres on Hossa).

    There should be very, VERY strict and very, VERY CLEAR exceptions to the rule and they should absolutely be very rare.

    That’s my 2 cents 2 days late…

  11. Save The NHL says:

    Another article from lower tier of hockey knowledge…The sad thing here is that Shanahan is single handily changing the NHL, for the worse. Vague and biased rulings, or no rulings at all, leave, not only the players and management baffled, but the fans. Brenden Shanahan is doing a terrible job and will be replaced.

    Wilson, and those with deep hockey knowledge realize that keeping players safe is a top concern, but not at the expense of the game itself. Those with even moderate hockey knowledge see the Torres hit as “hard nosed hockey” and good clean hit. The more you put the responsibility on the player being hit, the better the rulings will become and the less watered down the game will be.

    • Gann Matsuda says:

      I’ll ignore the insult, but I will respond by saying that you’re part of the problem. The last thing I want to see is good, hard hitting disappear from the game. But the health and safety of the players trumps everything. Those, like you, who are incapable of understanding that the game has changed, with the players being much bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, are clearly part of the problem. Indeed, things must change in this regard. Those who can’t accept that are a big reason the culture in the game remains an obstacle to necessary change.

  12. Pingback: San Jose GM Doug Wilson Tries To Pull Another Fast One In Remarks About LA Kings’ Dustin Brown | Frozen Royalty

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