SAN JOSE – Raffi Torres, a pending unrestricted free agent, said after the season he wanted to re-sign with the Sharks.
The feisty winger got his wish on Thursday, as the club announced a three-year extension with the 31-year-old, worth $6 million ($2 million annually).
“It’s great. I think it’s a relief for myself and my family,” Torres said on a conference call, shortly after the Sharks announced the deal. “For the short time we were there, we really enjoyed it, and knew right away. My wife, with the moods I was in coming back from the rink. … It’s a great organization. When we got the news, we were thrilled.”
Doug Wilson said: “He brings the skill set we’re looking for – speed, strength, he can shoot, he’s got a high skill level to play with high end players. What we noticed was how quickly he fit in with his teammates. He fit great in our room. All the things we have to factor in, this is a player we want in this organization.”
Torres, of course, brings an element of risk in that he has been suspended multiple times throughout his 11-year career. In the past two seasons alone, Torres has played in just eight of a possible 27 playoff games with the Coyotes and Sharks. In 2012, he was suspended for hitting the Blackhawks’ Marian Hossa with a high elbow while still with Phoenix, drawing a 25-game suspension (later reduced to 21), and had to watch while his club advanced to the Western Conference finals.
Against the Kings in Game 1 second round this past season, the Sharks’ winger was banned for the remainder of the series after hitting Jarret Stoll in the head. Although Stoll put himself in a vulnerable position, Torres’ initial point of contact was Stoll’s shoulder, and Stoll himself later called the hit a “hockey play,” the NHL decided that repeat offender Torres would be significantly punished.
The suspension suggested Torres plays to a different set of rules than other NHL players, and the Sharks incurred a $100,000 fine for publically disagreeing with the league’s decision.
“Every player comes to us with a risk, but obviously we’re very comfortable with this,” Wilson said. “I think Raffi, certainly in the last year – and credit goes to [Coyotes head coach] Dave Tippett in Phoenix, and Todd [McLellan] here – he really has transformed and evolved his game. He’s a very effective player.”
Wilson himself flew to New York after the league requested an in-person hearing with Torres following the Stoll hit. That, along with the strong public statement the club released when the ban came down, left a favorable impression on Torres. Indications are that the negotiating process between the Sharks and Torres' agent was relatively easy.
Torres said: “Without a doubt, Doug and the organization was first class handling everything that happened with the suspension. It made it really easy to fly to New York and deal with things that normally in the past would have been a bit more tougher. Obviously, my family and I thank him for that.”
“I still feel like there wasn’t anything wrong with the Stoll hit. But, at the end of the day, it’s something I’m always going to be working on. Until the day that I’m done playing, it’s thinking the game a little bit more, and trying not to put myself in a vulnerable position with borderline hits.”
In 11 regular season games after a trade deadline deal with Phoenix on April 3, Torres had two goals and four assists for six points, and scored the game-winning goal in a shootout on April 16 against the Kings. His most memorable moment (other than the Stoll hit controversy) came in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks, when he scored in overtime of Game 2 of the series sweep.
His presence, along with Brent Burns’ move to forward and Joe Pavelski’s transition to third line center, allowed the Sharks to roll three lines that were a scoring threat. That was painfully missing throughout the team’s offensive struggles from early February through mid-March, and again in the Kings series as the Sharks fell in seven games.
Off of the ice, Torres’ personality meshed well with his new teammates, and several Sharks players said after the season they were hopeful he would re-up with the club in the offseason.
“It’s a great room,” Torres said. “It starts with Joe [Thornton], [Pavelski], Patty Marleau, and guys like that that really keep the room upbeat and lively. It’s an easy place to come every day, and put the hard hat on and go to work.”
Wilson said: “He came in, and it was very quick. The guys liked having him on our side.”
The three-year deal is a nice pay raise for Torres, who just completed a two-year, $3.5 million contract he signed with the Coyotes. Prior to that, Torres played in Vancouver in 2010-11 on a one-year, $1 million deal. The solidity of a three-year contract was important to him.
“Signing in Vancouver for that one year, $1 million, you feel like you have to re-prove yourself. I’ve kind of felt like I had to do that a couple times in my career, but I still feel like I have a lot more to give to this game, especially now with the Sharks and knowing there’s some stability there,” he said. “It’s something you have to look forward to, you don’t have to worry about anything else, just going out there and playing hard every night.”
The Sharks acquired Torres from Phoenix for a third round pick (previously acquired days earlier as part of the deal for Ryane Clowe) in the upcoming 2013 draft.
In 630 career games with the New York Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes and San Jose, Torres has 255 points (134g, 121a) and 490 penalty minutes.
He was originally drafted by the Islanders in the first round (fifth overall) of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.