LOS ANGELES -- "The way I was brought up was, you've got to keep your head up," said Joe Thornton. "I was taught that at 6 years old."
The Sharks captain was defending his teammate, Raffi Torres, who is in big trouble. He may be suspended for the rest of the series against the Los Angeles Kings. Tuesday night, Torres slammed into the Kings' Jarret Stoll, who had his head down and wasn't ready to be hit. In years past, this was known as "just hockey." Given today's emphasis on preventing concussions, it is known as "suspendable offense."
Thornton doesn't believe that's entirely fair.
"It almost seems like the player who gets hit has no responsibility at all right now," Thornton said Wednesday. "It seems the responsibility is on the hitter and not the receiver."
Thornton has a point. By the same token, the Sharks have no gripe. They knew what they were getting in Torres when they acquired him last month in a trade. You don't pick up Torres and his reputation as a questionable hitter without keeping your head up and waiting for something to happen.
And now, it has. Torres' collision knocked Stoll out of Game 1 against the Sharks. Torres was assessed a minor penalty for charging on the play. Yet interestingly enough, following the Kings' 2-0 victory, the collision was not the primary topic of conversation.
"I was surprised there was even a penalty," said Sharks center Logan Couture. "From what I saw, it was a clean hit."
The NHL, after reviewing video, plainly thinks otherwise. Which is why, on Wednesday, Torres found himself on a plane to New York for a meeting with league officials. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson joined him.
Thursday morning, the twosome will speak their piece and attempt to avoid a long Torres suspension that could adversely affect the Sharks' chances of winning the series, which resumes with Game 2 here Thursday night.
"I'm assuming he's going to play until all the paperwork is done and decided," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, floating an incredibly optimistic view that Torres could be cleared of all charges, jump back on another plane and make it to Staples Center by late afternoon.
Except that's not going to happen. Logic tells you Torres won't play Thursday night. He will probably be suspended for between two and five games.
That may be too many. When the hit is examined on video, Torres is obviously trying to stay low. He approaches Stoll, and they initially collide shoulder-to-shoulder. However, Stoll is leaning over slightly after collecting the puck with his glove before dropping it to the ice, so Torres' shoulder continues onward and makes contact with Stoll's head. Stoll then falls over and never returns to the ice.
Torres' hit could have been avoided. But it could also have been far worse. It was not as treacherous as some hits that have been inflicted by others during these playoffs -- and those hits have earned less severe punishment. Because he is Raffi Torres, though, the scale of justice will slide toward the harsh for the rest of his career.
Wednesday, I asked Couture if he thought he'd be suspended for making the same sort of check.
"I don't know," Couture said. "Probably not. But you don't know."
Actually, we do know. This is the penance Torres pays for past sins. They reached a vicious climax a year ago in the first playoff round, when Torres was with the Phoenix Coyotes and received the third-longest suspension in league history -- 25 games, later reduced to 21 -- for his over-the-line violent check to the head of Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks.
This season, Torres was clearly making an effort to reshape his headhunting résumé. He avoided any nastiness with both the Coyotes and post-trade with the Sharks.
And then came Tuesday. Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who has a law degree and knows how to make an argument, was seen speaking with an NHL supervisor after the game, presumably about Torres. Darryl Sutter, the Kings' coach, called the play a "careless" hit and said Wednesday that even if a suspension occurs, it would not be equitable because "our player is quite a bit more important than theirs" and Stoll is expected to be out for a while.
In the Sharks dressing room, meanwhile, one teammate said that Torres' mood was not hopeful when he left for New York. By the time he is in a Sharks uniform again, it may be too late for him to hit and help anybody.
GAME 2: Sharks at Los Angeles, 7 p.m. NBCSN
Torres goes to New York for suspension hearing. Page 6