**News alert, reports say Torres to miss first few months of 2014-15 with another knee procedure.**
There is no question that Raffi Torres has deserved much of the punishment he has received in his career. Some of his vicious hits have been from the blindside, and most are unnecessarily high. However, you could also argue Torres has been a victim of double jeopardy or being charged with the same crime twice, or three times, or four times.
Sure enough, some will call out my Sharks bias. But many of those who relentlessly criticize Torres have never played the game. Decisions are made in fractions of a second, players suffer concussions on clean hockey hits. It’s a violent game played at high rate of speed. Torres’ most recent suspension in the 2013 playoffs is considered by many as a clean hockey hit. In fact, you could argue these unpunished hits by Brad Stuart and Douglas Murray have more direct/initial head contact than Torres on Jarret Stoll.
Speaking of a possible biases, Milan Michalek was one of my favorite players growing up. While with the Sharks, Michalek suffered a concussion via a high blind side hit from Torres. For the longest time Torres was on my proverbial poop list. However, ever since his 21 game suspension for this hit on Marian Hossa, Torres has changed his game to play within the rules.
In 44 regular season games since the Hossa hit, Torres has accumulated just 24 penalty minutes, a full season pace of less than 48. A small sample size to be sure but down from the 78 and 83 penalty minutes in full seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
If you don’t believe the eye ball test from a Sharks fan, the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre wrote a terrific piece on Torres during the 2013 playoffs. His opening line reads “Even reformed, Torres still hurts opposing teams.”
Torres was the fifth overall selection in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft for a reason. The New York Islanders saw a player with a high level of skill and drafted him accordingly. Torres scored 111 goals in 195 games in the OHL, including 91 points in 68 games during the 1999-2000 season. While he isn’t a 30 goal scorer in the NHL, his skill set has transitioned rather well to the top level. His 260 points in 635 games comes out to a very respectable .41 PPG average. In other words he is a tremendous third line scorer. Not to mention only 38 of those 260 points have come on the power-play. Torres has done most of his damage at even strength.
Sadly, many fans who have yet to watch Torres play for their team continue to rag on him as a dirty player. It is quite unfortunate because the majority of his past infractions start out as good hockey hits. They have been well-timed and would have been considered perfect if not for head contact. Lets break down the Hossa hit for example. From the time Hossa loses the puck until the time Torres makes contact is less than a second. Therefore it is difficult to consider this a “late” hit. Plenty of hits later than this go unpunished every year in the NHL. The problem for Torres in this case is that he launches himself upward and makes initial and primary head contact. A five minute major for charging/head contact, game ejection and five game suspension would have been more likely length of punishment if it wasn’t Raffi Torres. Lowering the boom with a 25 game suspension however did seem to get Torres’ attention. He has since made legitimate changes to play within the new rules.
Regrettably, in the minds of many, Torres 2013 playoff suspension undid all of his reform work. It is unfortunate because the guy is a terrific hockey player. He can score goals, make plays, and deliver good hard clean hits. He is the furthest thing from a “goon” who just fights all the time and can’t score a goal to save his life. It’s too bad many people aren’t willing to see that.
Andrew has been credentialed to cover the Sharks since 2010 and the 49ers since 2012. He graduated with his BA in Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts in 2013 from San Francisco State University.