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.

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ losing streak against the Washington Nationals this season rose to nine games in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The Phils gave up five first-inning runs and had just nine hits in being swept in the three-game series. They had four hits Monday night, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
 
The Phils entered the game hitting .239 as a team. Only San Diego was worse in the majors.
 
The Phillies have lost three in a row and seven of their last nine.
 
Starting pitching report
Adam Morgan absorbed his ninth loss but had the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season. The lefty gave up a first-inning home run to Jayson Werth then did not allow another run until there were two outs in the seventh. He was one strike away from getting out of the frame with a 1-1 tie when he gave up a full-count RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
 
In all, Morgan gave up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out five. He had entered the game with a 6.50 ERA and lowered it to 6.21.
 
Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (10-9) held the Phillies to two hits and a run over six innings.
 
Bullpen report
Blake Treinen, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Kelley closed it out for the Nats. Manager Pete Mackanin pinch-hit Ryan Howard against the lefty Rzepczynski with two outs in the eighth. Howard, hitting .138 against lefties, struck out. Rzepczynski stayed on for the ninth. He walked Cesar Hernandez to lead off the frame then got Odubel Herrera to bounce into a double play before handing off to the righty Kelly. Herrera has two sacrifice bunts this season, but was not asked to get one down on this occasion.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis clubbed his 15th homer, a solo shot in the fifth, for the Phillies’ only run.
 
Werth’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the season. It was a bomb to dead center. It came off the bat at 107 mph and traveled 453 feet. Werth also homered in the first inning of Monday night’s game. He has reached base safely in 55 of his last 57 games.
 
Ramos’ tie-breaking hit against Morgan came one batter after Anthony Rendon extended the seventh inning with a two-out double.
 
Ramos leads major-league catchers with 71 RBIs.
 
Reinforcements coming
The Phillies will add three players from the minors on Friday (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80) vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66)
 
Saturday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21) vs. TBA
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Jake Thompson (1-4, 7.86) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (4-9, 3.12).

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.