On hitting players with their heads down

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Given his history and the fact he has an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety today, Raffi Torres will probably be suspended for an illegal check to the head of Jarret Stoll of the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal series on Tuesday.

Raffi Torres Hits Jeret Stoll Reverse Angle -Western Conf. Semifinal 5.14.2013 - Created at yt2gif.com

If the NHL does decide to suspend Torres, not everyone will agree with the decision.

In fact, many — Sharks captain Joe Thornton, for one — will blame Stoll for putting himself in harm’s way.

“It almost seems like the player getting hit has no responsibility at all right now,” Thornton said. “In that case, I think Jarret probably wasn’t expecting to get hit, and it just looked like a clean hit. It seems right now that the responsibility is on the hitter, and not the receiver right now.”

But if anyone should know the risk of hitting a player with his head down, it’s Torres. In April of 2011, he nailed Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle and got a four-game ban (video).

As you can see from the images below, the two plays shared some key similarities.

Here’s Torres, right before he hit Stoll:

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Here’s Torres, right before he hit Eberle:

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In both cases, the player Torres hits is leaning forward and in a vulnerable position.

Now, it used to be that the player with his head down was 100 percent to blame if he got run over. Everyone who’s played the game has been told to keep their head up at all times, and young players are still told that.

But players are told to do a lot of things; it doesn’t mean they do those things all the time.

Torres, perhaps more than any other big hitter in the NHL today, is famous for pouncing the instant someone lets his guard down.

Whether you think it’s right or wrong, the NHL has made it clear that hitting players with their heads down can result in a suspension if the head is the principal point of conduct. And when a player has his head down, the head is more likely to be the principal point of conduct.

So Torres has a decision to make — does he keep doing what he’s doing and keep risking suspensions, or does he start letting up a bit when he sees an unsuspecting player in the trolley tracks?