Raffi Torres stood tall with his hands clasped behind his back, addressing the local media following a preseason game between the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes back in September. The winger had just made his return to NHL ice and talked about how good it felt to get back out there after missing a significant part of two consecutive seasons with a right knee injury that continued to ail him.
His teammates, along with the Sharks’ newly minted head coach Peter DeBoer, spoke on Torres’ fight to get healthy and back in the game.
“It’s been a long road for him,” DeBoer said that evening. “He’s put in a lot of work and a lot of frustration.”
“The summer was all about conditioning, but there is no conditioning like going out and playing the game of hockey,” Torres said. “I didn’t realize how much I love the game until I couldn’t play it anymore.”
To say things have taken a dramatic turn since that night is an understatement.
During his monumental 41-game suspension for illegally checking Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in the head in an October game, Torres reportedly had yet another procedure done on that right knee and has battled through more pain and discomfort in a recent rehab stint in the AHL with the San Jose Barracuda.
Then came Friday’s news: Bob McKenzie of TSN first reported that the Sharks had put Torres on waivers. The expectation now is that the forward will clear and remain at the AHL level for the rest of the season.
There’s no denying that this is a grim sequence for a player trying to get back to a professional caliber of playing, even for those who hold on to their perceptions of Torres as nothing more than a “goon.” Since signing a contract extension in the summer of 2013, Torres has only played in 12 games, with the bulk of that absence starting with a midgame collision that tore his right ACL. It has been a “frustrating,” surgery-laden road back to the active roster ever since.
News in December that Torres had undergone yet another procedure raised question marks about whether the notorious bruiser would be healthy enough to play once his suspension was over. Waiving him is another reminder that his battle to get back to playing in the league is dragging on.
Make no mistake, knee injuries are no easy thing to recover from. Take it from someone who has sustained a knee injury — that joint perpetually feels like one of those hollow pea shoots you find in a salad that can snap at any moment. Now, put the strain of multiple surgeries and skating for a living on that same little pea shoot. It’s no wonder a couple days of practice have reportedly left Torres with pain and discomfort.
It’s possible, had he not been suspended, that his right knee would have given him trouble early in the season and he would be rehabbing down at the AHL level at some point in the season anyway.
That right knee, added to one of the longest suspensions in NHL history, has kept Torres away from a Sharks team that, even with its recent success, could benefit from having him healthy. San Jose is sitting in second place in the Pacific Division at the All-Star break thanks to improved offense up and down the lineup and better goaltending, but what the Sharks could still use a bit of is that “edge.”
Sure, forward Tommy Wingels and defenseman Brenden Dillon can be counted on to shove an opponent when a contest gets heated. And sure, every once in a while Joe Thornton gets a wild hair up his nose and throws a punch.
But Raffi Torres, love him or hate him, brings an undeniable vibe to the bench that makes his teammates play an all-around more physical game. An illegal check to Silfverberg’s skull and another surgery late during his suspension have left the Sharks without that oomph.
It’s not completely clear what Raffi Torres’ future holds — if his tenure in Teal continues or if he’ll be able to skate at the NHL level on a regular basis again. He’d probably like another shot at addressing the media after returning to the ice like he did this past September — it’s just a matter now of whether that’s in the cards or not.