You can call Raffi Torres a slow learner — that much is obvious. But in this day of quick endings for veteran players, it’s fair to ask if the second half of this season becomes an exercise in avoiding retirement for Torres, who turned 34 earlier this month.
Torres, currently serving a 41-game suspension for a preseason head shot on Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg, spoke to the San Jose media this week, confirming what we’ve all been saying about him for years now.
“It’s the same hit over and over again,” Torres said. “You have to put yourself in (the Department of Player Safety’s) shoes and they feel like, ‘This guy’s just not getting it.’ Hopefully this one will be the last and I can try and put it behind you as best you can.”
The question every time Torres has been called on the carpet for one of his hits hasn’t changed: Can he be a useful NHL player without that dynamic of the big hit in his game? We’ve never learned the answer, because every time he steps back on to an NHL ice surface, boom! He turns the lights out on another opponent, and usually gets suspended again.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it three times a day. … I put a lot of pressure on myself to be better, to be smarter and I made one mistake out there and it cost me,” he said. “I kind of lost my train of thought for half a second and I was coming a little too quick, and once I saw him pull up, I was, ‘Aw, man.’ It’s hard for me to pull out of those hits. I know I can do it. I just made that one mistake.”
Frankly, Torres is saying the same things at age 34 that he was saying at age 26 or 27. But now his suspension threshold is a half-season — which means the Sharks have to pay his salary (it goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund) and work one man short on a 22-man roster.
Torres is unrestricted after this season, and three things are going to have to happen if he’s going to get even a professional tryout at someone’s camp next fall: He’s going to have keep his nose clean with the DOPS through the second half of this season; he’s going to have find a way to contribute without taking people heads off; and he’s going to have to show scouts and GMs that he can still skate, the one factor that has pushed players like Curtis Glencross into premature retirement.
Red hot market for blueliners
The two teams that have the most phones ringing right now in the National Hockey League are St. Louis and Calgary. The reason? Both have solid, Top four defencemen they might be willing to trade for the right forward.
Blues left-winger Jaden Schwartz busted his ankle in practice Friday, going down in the midst of a warmup drill. He’s had surgery already and will be re-evaluated in 12 weeks, the Blues announced Saturday. That leaves St. Louis without three of their top nine forwards for an extended period of time: Paul Stastny (broken foot), is out at least five more weeks; Patrik Berglund, who is skating, is coming off of shoulder surgery and won’t be ready at least until the new year.
The Blues added two first-year defencemen this season: six-foot-five Colton Parayko and six-foot-four Joel Edmundson. Both have come along faster than anticipated, and both have proven thus far that they are legit NHL blueliners. And they have a six-foot-three Finnish defenceman in the AHL — Petteri Lindbohm — that scouts I speak with say is NHL ready.
Now all-star D-man Kevin Shattenkirk, who has been sidelined since Oct. 13, is set to return to the lineup on Tuesday and St. Louis has a glut of defencemen — maybe the only team in the league with too many NHL quality blueliners. (Calgary may be another with Ladislav Smid returning Friday.)
“Everyone is looking for defencemen,” one scout said this past week. “There simply aren’t enough NHL defenceman to service 30 teams. Especially Top six.” An exercise his team did in the offseason was to count the number of legit No. 1 defencemen in the game today. “We came up with 11.”
Calgary needs scoring as well. If they and the Blues can part with a quality D-man, expect a ton of interest, led by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong would prefer to move Carl Gunnarsson, a No. 4-5 defenceman and pending UFA, but that would only bring back a Cam Atkinson-type player, should he deal with the Jackets. If St. Louis wants a Top 6 forward in return, they may dangle Shattenkirk, who has one year left on his deal beyond 2015-16.
In Calgary, pending UFA Kris Russell would fetch a second-line forward for sure. Chicago might be sniffing around the Flames for some defensive depth — they likely can’t afford Russell under their cap. You can bet the Hawks are trying to peddle big, disappointing winger Bryan Bickell, who has been on the market since summertime.
Glencross-ed off the list
That 33-year-old Curtis Glencross couldn’t latch on with an NHL club despite training camp tryouts in Toronto and Colorado is understandable. Sometimes a veteran player just can’t find the right situation in the faster, new cap conscious NHL. And Glencross, GMs say, has certainly lost a step.
That he decided to hang up his skates so quickly however, rather than linger until Christmas and wait for a call, surprised many in the hockey world. Glencross sat through last Saturday night’s Battle of Alberta at the Saddledome, and came away ready to retire. (I wonder if Connor McDavid’s foot speed had any bearing on that conclusion?)
“I had a great time at the game, and that night, I decided I was officially done with it,” Glencross told the Calgary Sun’s and Sportsnet’s Eric Francis. “It was tough, but there was kind of closure. I just felt it was the right time to shut it down.”
Glencross had a contract offer over the summer, believed to be from Colorado, and turned it down. He ended up changing agents, but alas, the new agent couldn’t unearth any better offers than the old one had found.
“I had some options to go to Russia and Sweden, but with a young family, I decided I wasn’t going there,” said the two-time 20-goal scorer. He played 507 NHL games for Anaheim, Columbus, Edmonton, the Flames and the Capitals. “It’s unfortunate — that’s a part of the business. We just decided to look forward to the next chapter. Maybe a door will open in the hockey world. I trust God has a plan for us.”
Ducks out of water
The drought in Anaheim stupefies, that the offence of a Western Conference finalist just months ago could dry up to this extent. After six games the Ducks had just six goals, with only three players — Rickard Rackell, Hampus Lindholm and Mike Santorelli — reaching the two-point plateau on the young season.
Every other Duck has one or zero points through their first six games, while none of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler and Andrew Cogliano had scored a goal yet heading into Saturday night’s game in Minnesota. Anaheim has scored ‘one or none’ in five of six games.
“It starts with me, Silfvy, Getzy, Pears,” Kesler said. “We have to turn the ship around. It’s a team game but we have to lead them in the right direction. So it’s on us.”
Canucks on the dot
Last season the Vancouver Canucks ranked 29th in the NHL with a faceoff success rate of 46.7%. But as of Saturday morning they were second in the NHL at 53.8%.
What is interesting, according to faceoffs.net, is the Canucks do not rely on one centre to take the vast majority of the draws. In fact, they have come upon that lofty team winning percentage with Henrik Sedin taking 14.1 faceoffs per game, Bo Horvat taking 14.8 and Brandon Sutter averaging 12.3. The Top 10 busy faceoff men in the NHL all average over 22 draws per game.
Another interesting fact: Sean Monahan, who takes the most faceoffs for Calgary, has watched his winning percentage fall from 49.3 last season to 42.4 this fall. That makes a huge dent in Calgary’s possession numbers, which were poor last season and worse so far this year.
Fighting down, suspensions up
The two-game suspension given to Dallas defenceman Jason Demers for elbowing Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino is a milepost for the NHL when it comes to penalizing head shots. It was a hard elbow to the chops by Demers to the checking Bonino — a reverse-hit situation — but one that has seldom if ever drawn a penalty, let alone a suspension.
Next time someone says that the NHL just “doesn’t get it” around the concussion issue — usually in a conversation centered on fighting — recall Demers. A play that has been accepted in the game for 100 years is no longer acceptable, and that is a good thing.
Fighting, meanwhile, continues its descent. In 2005-06, according to Hockeyfights.com, 29.02% of games featured at least one fight. That stat actually rose to 40.08 in 2009-10, but in 2015-16 the NHL is on pace to see a fight in 22.86% of games.
That’s an all-time low for as far back as Hockeyfights.com has researched (likely in hockey history) and edges towards having a fight in one of five NHL games played. Clearly, fighting simply is not a factor in the NHL anymore.