SAN JOSE – Timing-wise, it could have been much worse from the Sharks’ perspective. After dealing with countless distractions last season, the Raffi Torres half-season suspension occurred prior to the season opener, which should allow the club to quickly turn its focus towards the Kings on Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Still, that was of little consolation to the players in the dressing room, especially those who have been around Torres for the past two injury-riddled years. On the morning of his preseason debut on Sep. 25 there was a sense of excitement that Torres had made it back onto the ice, and coach Pete DeBoer even put Torres in the starting lineup in recognition of the 33-year-old forward’s long and brutal road.
Now Torres is out again, and it's unclear if the Sharks even plan on putting him on their roster (the deadline was at 2pm PT). If he is kept on the roster there is the possibility that the NHLPA could appeal the suspension, perhaps reducing the suspension. Sharks union representative Tommy Wingels said on Tuesday morning that he hadn’t heard anything about that yet, however.
Acting as the club's spokesman for just the second time, new captain Joe Pavelski reacted to the suspension on Tuesday morning.
“It was one of those feelings that I think everybody in the room felt [it] in their gut,” Pavelski said. “We were definitely disappointed in the ruling, but that’s what we have to deal with now. When he does come back, I think he understands he means a lot to our room, we love having him here playing, and we’ll look forward to his return.”
DeBoer spoke with Torres on Monday, and said the forward was “pretty emotional” at the time.
“Disappointed for Raffi. It’s an unfortunate incident,” DeBoer said. “We all know the league’s policy on those types of hits. I just feel for him because at ground level here we’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get back.”
In terms of how Torres’ absence will affect their overall performance, it’s difficult to say, but Torres was no guarantee to be in the lineup on a nightly basis anyway. It’s impossible for anyone to predict how his surgically repaired right knee, with an ACL from a cadaver, was going to hold up against the rigors of an NHL season.
For now, the fourth line will consist of some combination of Chris Tierney, Ben Smith, Mike Brown and Barclay Goodrow. Goodrow is the biggest beneficiary of the Torres suspension, in that he likely would have been ticketed for the AHL Barracuda roster had Torres not been banished.
“I think we have the opportunity here to be a four line team,” Goodrow said. “We look deeper, and [can] count on the third and fourth lines for a bit more scoring than we did last year. We have some skill and some grit with Brownie, so it should be a good combination and I’m looking forward to it.”
Turning the page on Torres should be fairly easy from a hockey standpoint. Not only is their season opener on the horizon, it comes against their biggest rival and with that rival’s former backup goaltender now manning their own net.
“You support your teammate no mater what,” Wingels said. “We don’t want to see him go through something like this, but we’ve got a lot of things to worry about in this room. We’ve got our first game tomorrow, and that’s really where our focus is going to be.”
DeBoer said: “It can’t be a distraction for us regardless of when it happens. I think that’s the big thing. We’ve got to move forward with the group that is available.”