By Glenn Brewer, Staff Writer | Follow him on Twitter
The NHL off-season is full of news, including the draft, free agency signings, and of course the CBA negotiations. Raffi Torres, who was suspended for twenty-five games, was the center of perhaps the most controversial piece of news this summer.
After much consideration, his suspension reduced to twenty-one games, having served thirteen of those games in the playoffs. The remaining eight games will be served at the beginning of the upcoming season. With all the questions surrounding the Phoenix Coyotes, the Torres issue has gone under the radar. What role will he play on the 2012-13 Phoenix Coyotes?
Torres finished the 2011-12 regular season with a respectable fifteen goals. Given his role, the obvious problem with this player is not his on-ice talent, but rather his discipline; offensive production and grit has never been in question throughout his career.
Far from the goal scoring expectations of a first round draft pick of the New York Islanders, Torres has turned into a solid, grinding depth forward. The last few years have been a merry-go-round of organizations with stops in Edmonton, Columbus, Buffalo, Vancouver, and finally Phoenix. In the Coyotes, Torres was given a chance to play top line minutes as well as depth minutes.
At times this season, Torres was the hottest sniper on the team. Suspensions cut any momentum from his scoring progress, and ultimately cut his season short in the first round of the playoffs.
When Torres returns, he will need to change his style of play significantly. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a similar situation this past year with Matt Cooke. Cooke missed the end of the prior season due to suspension and returned to the ice with a short leash. Fortunately for the Penguins, Cooke responded positively and had a career season with 19 goals.
Torres has a chance to be a key part to the Coyotes offense, especially if Shane Doan does not return to the desert. No one doubts the physical play of Torres, but his ability to score goals on a consistent basis remains to be seen. With his reputation in the worst state of his career, he’s going to have to start generating more offense.
Scoring is thin with the loss of top scorer Ray Whitney and potentially Doan, and this could be the last chance Torres will get in the NHL to be a top line producer.
If Doan decides to sign elsewhere, Torres could have a chance to slide into the wing on the second line with Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker. Right now David Moss would get the first shot at the second line wing, but that will not be set in stone. Torres has the combination of skill and physicality that Doan provided to that line all last season. With more ice time and discipline from Torres, he could make up the gap from his 15 goals he scored to the 22 goals that Doan posted.
If Doan decides to stay with the Coyotes, Torres will then have the opportunity to play on the third line. Once again, David Moss will have the first chance at that spot in front of Torres. Playing on the third or fourth line will present the tougher mental challenge for Raffi Torres’s usual style.
Naturally the third and fourth line forwards are groomed to be physical grinders, and keep the opposition off the scoreboard. But if Torres’s focus is more on a physical side, he may fall into bad habits once again. A goal scoring position on the top two lines could be the fresh change of pace the rugged forward desperately needs.
Whether Torres is given an opportunity on the top two lines or the bottom two lines, the real goal is to stay away from the suspensions. The NHL will not be so kind next time around.