Comparing Neal and Torres: A Detailed Look at Supplemental Discipline in the NHL

Comparing Neal and Torres: A Detailed Look at Supplemental Discipline in the NHL

There is really very little that separates James Neal's hit on Sean Couturier from Raffi Torres' hit on Marian Hossa in terms of the acts of the aggressors on each play.
In both instances, neither Couturier nor Hossa had the puck and both, given their position, could be considered defenseless. Likewise, the player who made the hit was guilty, in both cases, of three penalties: interference, charging and a blow to head.
The three separate penalties are stressed above because they are likewise emphasized by NHL Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan in his video suspending Phoenix's Torres for 25 games.
Neal, of course, received no penalty or discipline whatsoever for his hit on Couturier and was suspended one game for charging after making contact with Claude Giroux's head only 42 seconds later.
So, what are the differences between the plays themselves? [videos below]
The PlaysNeal:
A PrefaceThis site is, of course, Philadelphia-based and covers and supports the city's local teams. That said, this comparison between the hits on Couturier and Hossa is in no way motivated by Couturier's status as a Flyer nor Neal's as a Penguin.
Similarly, the Flyers' playoff series with the Penguins is of no consequence. The intent of this piece is to point out the ways in which the NHL assesses foul play and administers supplemental discipline on a case by case basis. The examples used below serve only to illustrate the central issue.
The Given ExplanationsThe most glaring difference between the two scenarios would be that Couturier was not injured on the play. Though he remained face down for many moments, he was eventually helped off the ice, but was able to skate under his own power, and later return to the bench. Couturier has not missed any time as a result of the hit. 
Hossa, on the other hand, left the arena on a stretcher, was diagnosed with a concussion, has not participated in a game since and may not for the remainder of the playoffs.
As for a history of this kind of behavior, a frequent point of focus for Shanahan and the league, both Neal and Torres have been previously fined and suspended for illegal hits. In just this last season, Neal was fined by the league and warned by the Department of Player Safety twice. He was also suspended by the league three years ago for making contact with a player from behind.
Torres, separately, has an even longer history of infractions and, as Shanahan put it, "reckless" behavior. He's been suspended five times for blows specifically to the head. This suspension makes his sixth.
Inconsistency and Improper FocusFrankly, after six suspensions for hits to the head dating back to 2007, Torres' suspension is not outrageous. If the NHL is serious about cleaning up its game and removing plays and players like this, then 25 games for a now-six-time repeat offender is an honest step in that direction.
That said, the league needs to seriously re-evaluate its position on weighing the result of a illegal play. Injury should play little part in the determination of a suspension. It is only by sheer luck that Couturier did not wind up as badly injured as Hossa. The result of a play should have little or no bearing in determining the illegality of a hit. Torres and Neal participated in highly similar acts, and those acts should be the focus of the league, not the severity of injury, which has been shown just in these two instances to be a matter of chance.
Moreover, it is gravely disappointing that Shanahan would go through such explicit steps to break down the event of the Torres incident while accepting the explanation of Neal for his. In both instances, as mentioned at the top, neither player who was hit had possession of the puck. Additionally, both players had lost the puck in such a fashion that caused the play to shift in the opposite direction, causing both Torres and Neal to alter their courses in relation to the puck.
Starting with Neal, he peeled back into the zone from neutral ice and found Couturier in his path. In the video above, Shanahan states that he accepts Neal's explanation that the forward was bracing himself for an unintended collision with Couturier.
But with Torres, Shanahan goes moment by moment to show how Hossa had released the puck, like Couturier, was no longer part of the play, like Couturier, and was defenseless, like Couturier. Unlike with Neal, Shanahan does not consider that Torres could have been similarly "bracing himself," despite specifically mentioning how Torres had previously attempted to make a play on the puck.
If Neal's explanation for his hit on Couturier is acceptable than there is only a willful decision not to see Torres' hit on Hossa hit from the same perspective. Frankly, one could make the argument that Torres was moving toward Hossa when Hossa had the puck, that Torres then reached backwards to play the puck while still skating in the direction of Hossa, and then braced for contact by jumping. In both instances, the speed of the game and the apparent inclination to jump in an attempt to brace oneself could be used to defend the actions of both Neal and Torres.
Those explanations can either be accepted or not accepted on the whole, but it is unreasonable to ascribe to Neal's version of events while picking apart the Torres in specifics. Both events should be viewed in the same manner as the acts were perpetrated&n
bsp;in the same manner. Granted, Torres has a longer history of reckless play, but, again, Neal was already fined and warned twice such behavior just this year. Just as it was irresponsible for Neal and Torres to leave their feet, it is irresponsible for the league to classify one of these events and self-defense while condemning the other in such detail as three separate penalties.
Does Precedent Play a Role?Most arguments about inconsistency related to supplemental discipline, other than the separate point raised below, focus on comparing one incident to another, as was done above.
The most obvious point of contention in this regard was Shea Weber's smashing of Henrik Zetterberg's head into the boards in Game 1 of Nashville's first round series with Detroit. The league has made a specific point this year to eliminate blows to the head -- not including fighting, of course -- and yet Weber was fined just $2,500 dollars for a blatant violation of the NHL's directives. He was not suspended.
That said, others have been suspended since the Weber incident and it's often a common reaction from fans and writers alike to compare suspensions in order to piece together some determination of consistency or inconsistency, fairness or unfairness on the part of the league. For example, well if Weber was only fined $2,500, why was player X suspended for Y games?
And although that's the common response, it doesn't seem like a response with which the league is concerned, nor does precedent seem to play any role in their decisions when it comes cases not immediately relevant to the player in question. For example, although the Neal and Torres appear responsible for the same (three) infraction(s), Torres has a separate disciplinary history from Neal, just as he does from every other player in the league.
So while it does make sense to compare these incidents based on a desire for consistency, the league, it appears, judges individuals acts on their own, and not in accordance with the acts or prior or even future suspension of others, no matter how similar the infractions may be.
A Double-Standard?Complicating matters is Neal's value to his team versus Torres' value to his. Neal scored 40 goals and dished out 41 assists for 81 points in over 19 minutes per game in the regular season. Torres, meanwhile, has scored a combined 86 points over the course of the last three seasons and was on the ice for an average of 11 minutes per night this year. Also worthy of mention is Hossa's recognition as one of the elite players in the world compared to Couturier's status as a highly-successful, but less-publicized rookie.
One will also notice in the Torres video above that the forward's first suspension in 2007 was similar to Evgeni Malkin's blindside pick on Couturier during Friday night's Game 5 in Pittsburgh. That play came just one game after Malkin, again from the blindside, initiated elbow-to-head contact with Flyer Nicklas Grossmann. Grossmann missed Game 5 with what has been reported, but not officially announced, as a concussion. Malkin was penalized for the hit on Couturier, but not for his elbow on Grossmann. He was issued additional discipline in neither case.
The scoring champion's behavior aside, though it exists in this article to raise a very specific point about the league's most talented players, there is no doubt that Neal is more valuable to his team than Torres to his. As context for why that's relevant, this article from ESPN insider Neil Greenberg argues that "punishments have been levied against stars and grinders alike, but the severity of the suspensions has varied" and that the league's "track record shows non-star players tend to be banned longer."
Whether or not a double-standard actually exists in the league office, there is at the very least a public perception, as demonstrated by both the Greenberg piece and articles like it, that indicates such as the case. It's that perception of favoritism that only makes comparisons between cases like Neal and Torres -- cases in which both players participated in nearly identical acts -- all the more frustrating.

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

Jim Harbaugh takes blame for Jim Schwartz handshake feud

With one season in Philadelphia under Jim Schwartz’s belt, Eagles fans are well aware of the intensity the defensive coordinator brings to the sidelines. But before joining Doug Pederson's staff, Schwartz attracted plenty of attention during a five-year stint as head coach of the Detroit Lions from 2009-2013. A highlight of his tenure in the Motor City developed a new wrinkle this week.

Maybe the most memorable moment during his time in Detroit was the unnecessarily ugly midfield feud in 2011’s Week 6 with then-49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz marched to midfield for the postgame handshake after his Lions took their first loss of the season. Harbaugh, a usually-excited guy with cause for a little extra enthusiasm after a fourth straight win, came in too strong for Schwartz’s liking. Schwartz chased down Harbaugh as he ran for the tunnel and the two exchanged some choice words. Coaches and players flocked to the tussle. What started as standard postgame procedure became the national talking-point nobody needed for the ensuing week.

The six-year-old incident returned to the conversation this week with Harbaugh, now the head coach at the University of Michigan, admitting on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take podcast (and as transcribed by ESPN) that he was to blame for things getting out of hand. 

"I went in too hard on that, too aggressive on the handshake," Harbaugh said on the podcast. "We've talked, and we're good. We're back to friends. ... There is a protocol in a postgame handshake. I've been there as the winner. I've been there as a loser. You just, 'Nice game,' then go celebrate. Premature celebration there, in the wrong."

On top of discussing his gifting Pope Francis a pair of Jordan sneakers and his theory that bringing a glove to catch a foul ball is acceptable for fans, Harbaugh went on to explain the last time he got in a real fight, as opposed to the silly scrum that went down at Ford Field that fateful day. He was 39, at the end of his days as a player, and got into it with two men at a restaurant.

"I did not win," he said. "I cannot say I won. I didn't get crushed, either. I got some blows in."

Harbaugh has a reputation for his passion, and the handshake debacle with Schwartz was no exception. It’s just that his passion often translates to doing things in a non-traditional way. He’s the khaki’s guy, always sporting his trademark dad-pants on the sidelines — he even tucked an Allen Iverson jersey into them once. He’ll do anything to get a leg up in recruiting, for example, sleeping over at a recruit's house for some “Netflix and Chill.”

Schwartz, similarly, is frequently fired up, and that aggression bleeds into his defensive scheme. 

Harbaugh is in the college game now, so the development in this nearly forgotten exchange isn’t life-changing. But if he ever returns to the pros, it’s good to know a postgame handshake with Schwartz wouldn't revive any bad blood.

Phillies minor league affiliate to ban tacos for one night to demonstrate bacon superiority

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Phillies minor league affiliate to ban tacos for one night to demonstrate bacon superiority

Everybody loves bacon. Everybody loves tacos. So why can't we all just get along and eat bacon tacos?

That's not what will go down on Saturday night when the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are BANNING the sale of tacos at all concession stands at Coca-Cola park.

Brutal!

It's all part of the Bacon vs. Taco night as the IronPigs host the Fresno Tacos.

"It was an easy decision. Serving tacos on Saturday would be hypocritical," said Lehigh Valley IronPigs President and General Manager, Kurt Landes.  "Saturday is about proving once and for all that there is absolutely no substitute for bacon. Period."

Yeah, but like I said: BACON TACOS.

The IronPigs are at least trying to make up for their lack of tacos by making bacon bits available to add to any food item for the low price of 75 cents. Seems like a steal. And there's always the candied maple bacon on a stick at least.

*

We're going to share some of the official press release for this event because it's just so juicy:

While the feud between Lehigh Valley and Fresno seemingly dates back to the beginning of mankind (or at least the beginning of Minor League Baseball), we should remind you that it was the IronPigs who first received national and international acclaim in 2014 for their "Smell the Change" rebrand that included the introduction of their now iconic bacon strip on-field cap and bacon-themed uniform. The IronPigs have doubled-down on bacon recently, embracing the "Bacon, USA" theme by doubling the amount of bacon sold at all games. The original bacon cap remains one of the top-selling lids in the history of Minor League Baseball. With widespread interest and publicity, the bacon logo quickly sold to each of the 50 states as well as Australia, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It wasn't until a year later in 2015 that the Fresno Grizzlies announced a one-game name change to "Tacos" (we don't get it either) hoping to garner similar attention while claiming the Central Valley of California as the "Taco Capital of the World."

Regardless of your favorite team or food, there's little argument that these two clubs have distinguished themselves promotionally throughout Minor League Baseball and professional sports. In fact, the IronPigs have been awarded the most Golden Bobbleheads in the history of the award, honoring promotional excellence in Minor League Baseball across various categories. Recently, Fresno captured the top prize in 2015 and Lehigh Valley in 2016. The winner of this contest will have a leg up in the race for the 2017 Golden Bobblehead award.