COMMENTARY | With news that forward Raffi Torres suffered a significant ACL injury in his collision with Anaheim's Emerson Etem in September 20's preseason game, the Sharks' 2013-14 prospects took an equally significant hit. Out six weeks or longer, Torres' absence will have an immediate impact.
No longer just a thug
I can anticipate the comments section below growing with "Torres is a thug" sentiments. Not so fast. While Torres has truly earned every bit of his unsavory reputation, he's a player in midst of a dramatic change.
Torres played a combined 39 games for Phoenix and San Jose last season and spent only 17 minutes in the penalty box, and that includes the five for fighting he had to endure when he took his lumps from Chicago's Jamal Mayers as payback for Torres' nasty hit on Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs. Torres was called for just six minor penalties of his own doing. Yes, he was suspended this last postseason for his hit on Kings forward Jarret Stoll, but most objective pundits realize there are good arguments to be had on both sides of that controversial judgment.
A force on the forecheck
What Torres brings to his new game is swift, slick skating and a willingness to grind hard along the boards. He is arguably the best forechecker on the Sharks' forward line, and his speed allows him to get back on defense if the forecheck doesn't produce a turnover. His prolonged absence will put a bigger forechecking load on the shoulders of newcomer Tyler Kennedy and returning forwards Andrew Desjardins, Adam Burish, and Brent Burns.
As abrasive as they come, Torres is grittiest player on the Sharks, one who doesn't hesitate to mix it up in the corners, behind or in front of the net, or anywhere for that matter. He has a knack for getting under an opponent's skin and getting him off his game. In a sport with razor thin margins of error, gritty, abrasive play often turns into an advantage on the scoreboard. The acquisition of Kennedy over the summer now becomes even more important with Torres out of the lineup.
The Sharks hurt for secondary scoring last season, and it remains a point of emphasis for this year's squad. In Torres' combined 39 games last season, he scored 7 goals and chipped in with 11 assists. Those are essentially Marty Havlat numbers (8 goals, 10 assists) and better those put up by Tommy Wingels, Desjardins, Burish and every other Shark on the third or fourth line. More was expected this season, and every forward will have to kick it up a notch while Torres is out.
Torres is certainly not the Sharks' most important forward, not with the likes of Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and others. Torres isn't even top-six on the Sharks. However, he provides a number of tangible and intangible impacts on the Sharks success and he will be greatly missed. The Sharks have a big challenge ahead in overcoming this first bite from the injury bug.
@RayHartjen is a longtime rink rat who's been on a decades-long quest to get the stink of hockey gloves off his hands.
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