SAN JOSE – Raffi Torres’ reputation around the National Hockey League doesn’t require any clarification.
The man is a ticking time bomb. It’s inevitable that at some point, he’ll seriously injure or perhaps even end the career of a fellow player with yet another flying elbow to the head, in the style of Milan Michalek, Marian Hossa and Jarret Stoll, to name a few.
Or, so it’s been said.
But until the 31-year-old was banned from the postseason for his hit of Stoll in the playoffs last May, the high-energy winger kept his nose clean and not only avoided further suspension from the Hossa hit the spring before, but was hardly in the penalty box during the shortened season. In 39 regular season games with the Coyotes and Sharks, Torres had just 17 penalty minutes. In 11 games with the Sharks after a trade deadline move brought him to the Bay Area, he was whistled for just two minor penalties, and had two goals and four assists.
But then the controversial Stoll hit happened, and the reset button on Torres’ so-called reformed game was firmly depressed. Essentially, it’s back to square one for Torres, who could see his first on-ice competition since the Stoll hit in Friday’s home preseason game against Anaheim.
“Obviously, there are different aspects of my game that always need fine-tuning,” Torres said. “I’ll have to work a little better with taking pucks away, and not leading with the big hit. Just playing a little smarter out there. Obviously, we don’t want to go through something like [the suspension] again. I know it’s a broken tape recorder, but I’ve just got to keep working the system, and playing the right way to stay in the game.”
Working with Torres on how to avoid any more trips to the Principal Shanahan's office falls on the shoulders of the team’s coaching staff. It’s a constant work in progress.
“We’ve worked with him and we’ll continue to remind him,” Todd McLellan said. “What we don’t want is him backed off. He’ll continue to have our support all the way through. It’s not a daily thing, but it’s an ongoing thing.”
“We want him to play hard and finish hard, and just to do it the proper way. If he does that, then boy, we have a great asset.”
Suspension aside, Torres was an effective player during his month-and-a-half in a teal sweater. His acquisition for a third round pick was part of what ended up being a wildly successful trade deadline for general manager Doug Wilson, whose re-invigorated club stormed into the postseason on a hot streak and nearly knocked off the depending Cup champs after sweeping Vancouver in the first round.
Torres’ place as a top nine winger is secure. In first round against the Canucks, he skated on the wing of Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau in what was the Sharks’ most effective line. When he was suspended for the Kings’ series, it was obvious that San Jose – already down another top nine winger in Marty Havlat – missed Torres’ feisty presence.
When training camp opened, Torres was back on the Couture-Marleau line, but on Wednesday at Sharks Ice he skated on the third line with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels.
Getting shifted up and down the lineup has “never been an issue for me,” Torres said. “My problem is when I’m on the second line, I think I’ve got to make plays. The one thing I’ve been working on the last couple years is just keep playing the same way whatever line you’re on. Keep getting to the net, up and down my wall, pucks off the net, finishing hits. Just stay in that rhythm.”
As for his reputation, Torres, who signed a three-year, $6 million contract extension with the Sharks this summer, is well aware of some of the emotions his name elicits around the league.
And, who knows? Maybe it can be beneficial.
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“Hopefully, I’ll be in other guy’s heads, you never know,” Torres said. “I’m sure everybody thinks maybe today’s the day he throws that big hit again, and he’s going to get in trouble.”