NHL reduces Raffi Torres suspension to 21 games

Gary Bettman has cut four games off the 25-game suspension given to Raffi Torres during the playoffs. The reduced sentence from the commissioner came after the Phoenix Coyotes forward appealled Brendan Shanahan's original decision.

Forward appealed Brendan Shanahan's 25-game ban

Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa (81) falls down after taking a hit from Phoenix Coyotes' Raffi Torres in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup playoff series. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

Seventy-six days after Raffi Torres concussed Marian Hossa and 46 days after he appealed the 25-game suspension that followed, the Phoenix Coyotes forward was awarded a reduced sentence.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman deemed Torres' hit to be worth four less games than disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan after an appeal.

Bettman announced a 21-game ban for Torres on Monday, down from Shanahan's original ruling of 25 games on April 21. It was an extremely rare move by the commissioner. One thing he and Shanahan agreed on was the dangerous nature of the play.

"This type of on-ice conduct cannot and will not be tolerated in the National Hockey League," Bettman said in a statement. "We have seen similar behaviour before from Mr. Torres and, particularly given the league's heightened scrutiny on hits to the head, I believe that a very significant penalty is warranted in this case.

"We hope and expect that the severity of this incident, and the league's response to it, will help prevent any similar incident from occurring in the future."

Torres already served 13 games of the suspension during the playoffs. He still has to sit out the coming pre-season as well as eight regular-season games, which will cause him to forfeit US$170,731.68 in salary.

However, it could have been worse.

Hossa was taken off the ice on a stretcher April 17 after Torres left his feet to deliver a shoulder to Hossa's head in Game 3 of the first-round series. In making his original ruling, Shanahan pointed out that Torres had a long history of supplemental discipline and that he violated three NHL rules during the hit on Hossa: interference, charging and checking to the head.

Torres reached out to the Blackhawks winger about a week after the incident occurred.

"It was nice that he contacted me, but I told him that I was upset," Hossa said in May. "I said, 'I know we were playing that way, but the thing that upset me was the jump.' If he didn't jump, maybe I would have still been hit hard, but it wouldn't have hit my head."

Bettman heard an appeal from Torres and representatives from the NHL Players' Association at the league offices on May 17 and took plenty of time before announcing the decision. The 21-game suspension matches the seventh-harshest penalty handed out in league history — and it will leave Torres with next to no room for error when he returns to the ice.

Beyond that, the incident shed some light on the NHL's disciplinary system. Bettman has the final call on every suspension appeal and it's believed the NHLPA will seek changes to the process during negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement this summer.