SAN JOSE -- Raffi Torres’ second-round suspension came at the worst possible time for the Sharks last May. The club had just completed a first-round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, and was playing as well as any team in the National Hockey League, headed into a best-of-seven showdown with the rival Los Angeles Kings.
The player that was the embodiment of the Sharks’ newfound identity was abruptly yanked from the active roster, and in a series that was so evenly matched, Torres could have been the extra element San Jose required to advance.
If there’s a silver lining to Torres’ three- to five-month recovery period from a torn right ACL, it’s that the 31-year-old should be back in time to be a difference-maker down the stretch and into the postseason. The Sharks present plan is to fill the void left by Torres internally, but it’s yet to be determined which 20 players will be wearing a teal jersey on Oct. 3 against Vancouver.
Whoever takes Torres’ place, though, will have the benefit of being around his teammates and coaching staff from the start of training camp on Sept. 12.
“If you’re going to pick a time, this may be a better time for it to happen, because we’ve had some of our younger players with us now for going on three weeks,” Todd McLellan said. “That’s a lot different than an arrival via an airplane from Worcester in the middle of January.”
“It’s a big hole to fill. But, there will be 29 other teams this year at some point that go through it. They will lose key people and they will find ways to recover. We want to be ahead of the curve, and do a better job than they do.”
On paper, Torres’ absence doesn’t indicate a full-blown roster emergency, as the winger had a modest two goals and four assists in 11 regular season games after a mid-season trade. He added one goal in five playoff games before the suspension for hitting Jarret Stoll.
It’s Torres’ tenaciousness on the ice, his ability to deliver the big hit, and his gift of positively influencing his teammates that will be missed more than anything.
“He was a very big part of the change here,” Dan Boyle said, referring to the team’s multiple moves in personnel and strategy last April. “No, I don’t think [his loss] is overstated. I think it’s deserved.”
Logan Couture said: “He’s kind of an irreplaceable player, but other guys get the opportunity to jump in and show what they have.”
Fortunately for the Sharks, they learned how they have to play last spring in order to be successful. It’s why the roster turnover was so minimal this offseason.
“We changed our style of play a little bit, got a little quicker, north-south more. We’re going to have to continue to play that way. That’s the way the league is these days,” Couture said.
Boyle said: “You’re still preparing the same way. Obviously, it’s a big loss for us. I think he was a big part of our success at the end of last year.”
Whether the Sharks will be able to maintain that identity without Torres will be determined starting in exactly one week.
“I don’t know if Raffi is going to score 30 goals in a season, but we know that he’s going to finish 30 checks, he’s going to play hard, compete for his teammates, and do all of those things that we saw for a short period last year. Unfortunately, it’s just going to be a short period this year,” McLellan said.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. We want to support him now and make sure he gets everything he needs to recover. When it’s time, he’ll be back playing.”