Despite their announcement Wednesday afternoon, the Sharks appear to have a positive outlook on the status of Raffi Torres.
The enforcer missed a significant portion of last season after sustaining a knee injury in a preseason tilt against the Anaheim Ducks. Now the team has made it known that complications from a procedure at the start of the offseason will send Torres back under the knife. He will undergo another operation — this time to fix an infection to his surgically-repaired right knee — and will likely miss about half of the upcoming season. (I say “about” because no timetable has been set yet.)
De ja vu from last season? Not quite.
The Sharks are in a slightly different spot than they were at the start of their 2013 campaign, the last time Torres was sidelined. And while the winger’s absence will still be felt, it could have a very different impact on the transitioning San Jose team than it did a year ago:
His position as an enforcer
It has been evident since Torres started his tenure in teal that the rest of the team skates harder-better-faster-stronger with him in the lineup. Throughout his IR stint last season before the Olympic break, discussion swirled over how much the Sharks needed him healthy to put a tougher product out on the ice.
San Jose enters this training camp with a few more issues on their plate. As much as players might try to deny it, the ugly end of last season — in addition to rumored locker-room issues — can weigh on a team’s focus and level of play. Having a sure-fire player on the ice to get the team fired up when they’re down will be missed even more.
His position as a member of the offense
The Sharks offensive corps, for the most part, is the same as last season.
There will be a few absences, however. Most notably, Brent Burns has been moved back to the blue line.
San Jose still has talent on top, but the third and fourth lines benefit from the winger being healthy and playing. Well, take away that stint at the latter part of last season when James Sheppard got hot, or Andrew Desjardins’ occasional dominance.
Do the Sharks bring up a forward from the AHL long term to fill the spot? Do they put Burns back on offense to fill the void? Do they — gasp — move Joe Pavelski back to third line center so that there is more top talent stacked throughout the lines?
The one advantage to Torres having surgery now, as opposed to getting injured closer to the season opener, is that the Sharks have more time to figure that out.
This trip down recovery lane also finds Torres at a different part of his career than it did last year.
The one upside, again, to the announcement about Torres’ ACL is that it came during the offseason, before training camp. This not only gives the team more time to fill the space, but it lends a bit of hope that maybe Torres might be more readily available, depending on how well his rehab progresses.
Except the overall health of Torres’ right knee is more concerning than when he was injured last September. This will be the second surgery within a year, not counting the procedure he underwent after the Sharks’ 2014 season ended that was meant to clean up the surgically-repaired ACL.
When Torres did return, he only played five regular season games before being sidelined due to soreness. He participated in the playoffs, but admitted that he was playing with pain during the seven-game series. It’s unknown how effective he’ll be when he returns, given that there has been more work done on his knee, and even more time taken off of the ice.