Are Sharks fans ready for Raffi?
SAN JOSE – The first hurdle has been cleared. Raffi Torres’ arrival to the San Jose locker room on Thursday didn’t result in a total team mutiny or walkout in protest of the agitating forward joining the Sharks’ ranks.
For the first time in his 11-year career, Torres donned a Sharks logo on his chest in the form of a black practice jersey. In the past, that logo has acted as a bull’s-eye to the six-foot, 210-pound left wing, who is known for his big hits – many legal, and some not.
[RELATED: Sharks acquire Torres from Coyotes]
Torres has been a thorn in the Sharks’ side for years, having spent parts of nine seasons in the Western Conference. His dirty hit of Milan Michalek in the 2006 playoffs against Edmonton helped the Oilers upset the Sharks in the second round that year. More recently, while with Vancouver in 2011, Torres hit Joe Thornton with a clean check along the boards that gave Thornton a separated shoulder.
That’s all in the past, though, as the Sharks hope Torres provides a spark and brings a fearless attitude to a team that seems to be increasing its playoff position by the day, during a six-game winning streak.
“When you put on that jersey everybody is on the same team and you all go the same direction,” said Patrick Marleau, one of just two players (with Thornton) remaining from that 2006 Sharks team. “That’s the main thing.”
Thornton said: “When I heard he was coming here, I was pretty happy, actually.”
And how did that first encounter with Torres go, Joe?
“Hey, how are you, my name’s Joe. Nice to meet you, Raffi,” Thornton said with a smirk.
Torres said in a conference call on Wednesday, shortly after the trade, that he understands why Sharks fans might still cradle some animosity towards him. There’s always the chance, too, that some players on the Sharks would have him high on the list of opposing players that they genuinely dislike.
“I hope not. I know if it was the other way around, I’d want some of these guys on my team, whether I liked them or not throughout my career,” Torres said. “There are some great players in this room, and I’m just here to do my job and help out. I’m not looking to step on any toes or cause any conflict, I just want to do my job, have some fun and win some games.”
He was particularly complimentary of Thornton.
“In my career I’ve always had a ton of respect for Joe. He plays the game to the best of anyone’s ability. He does whatever it takes to win in this room, and I’ve heard nothing but positive things about him. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that whatever happens on the ice stays on the ice. … Hopefully we can put that stuff behind [us]. I know I have, and just look towards the future.”
Torres has managed to stay out of trouble since his suspension following an elbow to the head of Chicago’s Marian Hossa in the playoffs last season. He's never been a huge penalty minute guy, but his 13 PIM in 28 games is still much lower than his career average. He's also potted five goals and seven assists for 12 points.
Todd McLellan expects Torres to contribute to the Sharks, and to keep playing within rules, too.
“He’s got to continue to use what his strengths are, use them on a nightly basis, and just don’t cross the line,” McLellan said.
The head coach pulled up video of the Sharks’ most recent game against Phoenix last Saturday. The Sharks won in a shootout, 3-2, and Torres skated for almost 12 minutes and finished -1.
“The last game in here, he contributed,” McLellan said. “We were talking about him and went back and watched his game, and it was pretty solid. He had a real good game against us, and played the way he needs to play. Hard, fast, straight lines, and creating some offense. We were aware he was on the ice.”
Just where Torres fits on the Sharks, or if he will be in the lineup on Friday against Calgary, is unclear. None of the players who skated in the 4-2 win over Minnesota on Wednesday practiced on Thursday, so Torres was out there with the scratched and injured players after arriving in the morning.
McLellan may hesitate to mess with a lineup that’s won six in a row and playing its best hockey since the start of the season.
“I can’t lie, the team has played well and there’s no reason for anybody to come out,” he said. “We’ll have to make that decision tonight or tomorrow.”
Moving at the trade deadline is not new to Torres, who was sent to Buffalo by Columbus on March 3, 2010. Still, he may need time to learn the Sharks systems before he is given a prominent role. Although, he gave the impression he's never been a big X's-and-O's guy.
“You can talk systems to me, but I kind of do my own thing out there sometimes. It’s probably cost me a lot of minutes and playing time, but we’ll go over some things, for sure,” Torres said. “It’s all about trying to keep things simple. When I start thinking too much out there, that’s when it starts to go south.”
Torres’ reputation and style of play could help the Sharks in the postseason, granted the Sharks get there, according to Marleau.
“The impact he has on games with big hits and scoring, just being out on the ice, the other team is wary of where he is. That’s valuable come playoff time,” Marleau said.
“He always plays hard and hits. There’s a lot of different attributes he has, but maybe that’s one thing - he can put some fear in the other team.”
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Defenseman Scott Hannan, the other trade deadline acquisition, didn’t make it to San Jose in time to skate on Thursday. He was expected later in the day, and should partake in the morning skate on Friday.