Of course — of course! — the new Sharks scribe would get a first-post assignment that basically involves defending Raffi Torres from the angry hordes who want his head on a platter. Of course. So here we go!
You’ve heard the news, surely, that Torres is out of the San Jose lineup for up to 3-4 months, as he rests and rehabilitates a knee injury. And you, you’re not a mean one, so you didn’t rejoice at the fact that he was hurt. But somewhere, deep down inside, you were probably really happy to hear that jerk was off the ice for the time being, weren’t you?
As I wrote about Raffi Torres in my season preview over at PuckBuddys, “If you think he’s an awful hockey player, you’re just mad he’s not on your team. I’m okay with that, and you should be, too.”
It’s trite, but mostly, I stand by this assessment. The Raffi Torres who has played for the Sharks has been an amazing catalyst for Team Teal. When he’s healthy and not-suspended and actually playing, he’s been an incredible source of motivation and strong puck movement toward the goal for the Sharks’ offense.
Yes, there was that hit on Jarrett Stoll of the LA Kings in the playoffs last season. But if you have eyes, you didn’t see a hit to the head when you watched the video. And if you have ears, you heard the Shanaban clip on YouTube: “As the video clearly shows, Raffi Torres checked an opposing player in open ice. Totally unsafe. As Raffi Torres was involved in a check, he is suspended for however-many playoff games. And because he is playing for the Sharks, and this is the postseason, they will lose the series.”
OK, so Raffi’s a jerk, and the Sharks are chokers. Is the broader hockey crowd happy? Have I paid enough penance?
The fact of the matter is that Torres is a tremendously important piece of the Sharks offense. He brings a ton of grit — but that grit slows neither his body nor his hands. No question: The San Jose Sharks become a better team with Torres in the lineup. I’ve seen most of the games he’s played in teal, and doggone it, he hasn’t tried to kill a man or mug someone’s grandmother. Not even once, despite what everyone says about him!
I can’t find the video clip, but I distinctly remember a game shortly after Torres’ arrival in the Bay Area, where I watched him on the attack, taking a defender out of the play and leaving a beautiful drop pass in the slot for a shot on goal for the trailer. I don’t think the shot resulted in a goal, but it was a helluva hockey play. Watching that left me with an astonishing thought: You know what? Raffi Torres is a dude who has a reputation for playing on tilt and all, but for all his critics, this guy is actually not that bad at Ice Hockey!
So yeah, you, fan of other team, I get you. You hate his guts. You hope he isn’t on the bench when your team meets the Sharks. You think he’s a terrible hockey player because he isn’t on your team. I’m okay with that. And you should be, too.
One more thing: Torres’ injury opens up a roster spot on the NHL club for folks who would otherwise be going elsewhere. I’m not saying the Torres injury is what may have earned Tomas Hertl a spot on the roster with the big boys, but based in particular on Hertl’s play Tuesday night against Vancouver, it’s not a stretch to say we’ll be seeing the youngster in San Jose this year. Clearly, there must be lots of discussion going on among the Sharks’ brain trust about who else to slot in for the start of the season, now just days away.