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SAN JOSE – For a guy that has played in just a dozen NHL hockey games in the past 17 months, Raffi Torres was in good spirits on Tuesday when he spoke publicly for the first time since returning to the Bay Area, where he will continue to work towards a return from a multitude of right knee problems.
The 33-year-old doesn’t have the best reputation with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, of course, and could even joke about it a little bit.
“It’s just an unlucky thing. I don’t know if that’s karma biting me in the butt. … I can kind of laugh about that,” Torres said.
Torres has been around since last Monday, and hopes to begin skating in the next week or so, after multiple infections in his surgically repaired right knee resulted in a complete removal of his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
“People have helped me along the way and I’m hoping that I can get back and start helping this team out the way I know I can,” Torres said. “At the end of the day, I haven’t played in a couple years, but I feel good. Mentally, I feel refreshed."
“Coming back here puts that fire back in my body.”
Torres’ unfortunate timeline goes like this: he originally had surgery on Sep. 26, 2013, after colliding with the Ducks’ Emerson Etem in a preseason game. An ACL from a cadaver was inserted into his knee with the thought being that it would accelerate his return.
He did manage to come back after the NHL’s Olympic break in late February, but played in just five games before missing the final 17 of the regular season. He suited up in the playoffs against Los Angeles and had a few effective games on the fourth line, but said after the season that he was “skating around pretty much on one leg.”
Torres underwent a procedure after the season, but upon returning to his hometown of Toronto, started feeling pain in the knee again. A staph infection was discovered, requiring another surgery.
When the infection returned, it was decided to remove the wonky ACL entirely.
Now, Torres wants to move on, after seeing some doctors in Minnesota approximately one month ago and undergoing a battery of tests. “Every possible test that I needed for me to move forward and to start pushing it,” he said.
“They think [the infection] gone. Everything looks good. At this point now, it’s kind of an old chapter. … There’s no sign as far as I know that it can come back. That’s part of the decision we made, opting not to do another [ACL repair] route, but deciding to just try and get this thing as strong as I can.”
Torres said that he’s spoken with Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk, who, according to Torres, played for several years without an ACL (coincidentally due to a hit by the Sharks’ Bryan Marchment in the 1998 playoffs).
“Nieuwendyk obviously had a pretty good career and he played for quite awhile like this. … He said there were times when it would give out on him, but for the most part, he obviously had a pretty productive career,” Torres said. “There are some other guys I haven’t talked to, but I’ve heard they say you can get by.
“I’m just trying to be hopeful that when I start skating it’s not affecting me. If I can play at the level I need to play at, I’ll keep going. If not, we’ll have to sit down again and reassess the situation.”
Torres doesn’t blame anyone for what happened, when asked if he would have been better off sitting out all of the 2013-14 season.
“That’s tough to say. After the first surgery last year, we didn’t have any setbacks,” he said. “Everything was going the way we planned it. We always said that if keep going, if you work this thing pretty hard and it doesn’t swell up, then just keep going. It was smart in terms of what we were doing day-to-day.
“There might have been a couple times when I probably should have come in and said ‘we probably should back off today a little bit.’ But, it’s tough for a player that hasn’t played that much to go in there and be like, ‘I don’t think I can skate today.’”
Torres is a popular guy with his teammates, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan welcomed the forward back into the dressing room.
“He has a demeanor and the way he carries himself is welcome here right now. It’s a positive thing,” McLellan said.
“I know his teammates like having him around. We would much rather see him in equipment than shorts and a t-shirt and doing therapy, but at least it’s a start. … It’s been important for us to have him here, for both us and him.”