Raffi Torres showed the San Jose Sharks during his short stint both the attributes that make him a valuable player and the negatives of his suspension-filled history that sidelined him for the final six games of the playoffs.
General manager Doug Wilson decided that the rewards outweighed the risks, signing Torres to a $6-million US, three-year deal Thursday that prevents him becoming an unrestricted free agent July 5.
"Every player comes with some level of risk and obviously we're very comfortable with this," Wilson said. "He's really transformed and evolved his game. He's a very effective player. I won't comment and can't comment on the suspension in the playoffs. We think he brings all the skill sets we're looking for: speed, strength, he can shoot and he has a high skill level to play with high-end players."
Torres showed those skills almost immediately after coming over in a deadline deal from Phoenix on April 3. He had two goals and four assists in 11 regular season games and provided a needed spark with his speed and physical play that helped San Jose wrap up a playoff spot.
He then scored an overtime game-winner in Game 2 of first-round sweep against Vancouver and turned himself into a key component on the Sharks.
That all ended when he hit Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll in Game 1 of the second round against Los Angeles. Pointing to a long history of impermissible hits that included a 21-game suspension for a blow to the head of Chicago's Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs, NHL senior vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan banned Torres for the rest of the second round. It was his fourth career suspension.
Wilson and the Sharks said at the time that it was a "clean hockey hit" and the principal point of contact was with Stoll's shoulder, not head. The organization was fined $100,000 for the comments, but Torres appreciated the strong support.
Torres had committed only six minor penalties in 39 regular games since returning from the Hossa suspension in an effort to change his game.
Torres' absence hurt Sharks
"I still feel like there wasn't anything wrong with that Stoll hit," Torres said. "At the end of the day, it's something that I'm always going to be working on until the day I'm done playing — thinking the game a little bit more and obviously try not to put myself in a vulnerable position with those borderline hits."
The Sharks felt Torres' absence as it forced Joe Pavelski to move from third-line centre to wing on one of the top lines and hurt the scoring depth that was key to San Jose's success in the stretch run.
Instead of having a third line of Pavelski, Torres and either Marty Havlat or Tommy Wingels, the Sharks had to load up their top two lines and got little production from their bottom six forwards.
"That's a line that's tough to match up with and I think would have been a big mismatch," Wilson said. "That was part of the thought process when we did it at the trade deadline to be able to put people in the proper roles. We did miss him."
Now they will have him for three years in a deal that gives Torres the stability he had been seeking. Since being traded from Edmonton to Columbus following the 2007-08 season, Torres has played for five teams and has not spent two full seasons with any of them.
"Pretty much since I left Edmonton, it's been tough," he said. "You felt like you had to reprove yourself. I felt like I had to do that a couple of times in my career. I still feel like I have a lot more to give to this game especially now with the Sharks. Knowing there will be stability there is something I look forward to. I won't have to worry about anything else except going out there and playing hard."
Torres has 134 goals and 121 assists in 630 career games, with his most productive season coming when he scored 27 goals in 2005-06 to help Edmonton make it to the Stanley Cup final.