Raffi Torres will have at least one more opportunity to put aside his lengthy history of cheap shots and stick to a legal, physical style after signing a professional tryout agreement with the Carolina Hurricanes.
General manager Ron Francis defended the decision to bring in the 34-year-old veteran winger on Tuesday, stressing his hopes that Torres has moved on from his controversial past and adding that the tryout gives the team a low-risk opportunity to see what he has left.
The 6-foot, 215-pound winger will bring an experienced resume to Raleigh, having played in 635 career games since being chosen fifth overall in the 2000 draft. But he has made just five NHL appearances over the last three seasons combined due to an ugly combination of injuries and the longest suspension in league history.
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“He’s a physical guy,” Francis said. “I actually played against him before my career was over and he was the first guy who reverse-hit me — you’re coming in and you expect to hit the other guy and he hits you first. … If he plays within the rules, he can be an effective player and he’s shown that in the past.”
Torres burst into the NHL in 2003, scoring 20 or more goals in each of his first two full NHL seasons with Edmonton and helping the Oilers make a surprising run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals against Carolina.
An ACL tear in 2007-08, however, cost Torres more than half the season and prompted a trade from Edmonton to Columbus, beginning a trend of frequent injuries (a shoulder separation in 2008, another ACL tear in 2013, a recurring knee issue in 2009 and 2014) and switching teams (six times between 2008 and 2013).
Over time, Torres’ offensive productivity markedly declined while his his reputation as a “dirty” player rapidly grew. His stints with Vancouver in 2010-11 (including another Cup Finals appearance) and with Phoenix from 2011 to 2013 were both littered with illegal head-targeting hits and league-enforced discipline, and he failed to top 30 points in any season with either team.
(His physicality is) something we don’t have a lot of in our lineup, so we figured we’d give him the opportunity to come into camp.
Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis on Raffi Torres
Torres had already been suspended four times — including 21 games for a late, blindside hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs — and had been either warned or fined an additional four times in his career when he, playing for San Jose, charged across the ice and drilled the head of Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg in a 2015 preseason game.
The incident prompted the NHL, taking Torres’ history into account, to suspend him for the first 41 games of the 2015-16 regular season. Many called for a lifetime ban of Torres, including Sportsnet columnist Mark Spector, who wrote that “the game is a better place without” him.
The lifetime ban was not given, though, and Torres hit the market this summer as an unrestricted free agent prior to this week’s PTO signing.
During his career, Torres has been suspended five times for a total of 74 games.
“I don’t condone those kind of hits, and I think they were dealt with the right way in regards to the league, and he’s served his time and he’s forfeited his money and hopefully he’s in a different place moving forward,” said Francis, defending the signing. He said his former agent is part of the agency that represents Torres.
Even if Torres does play within the rules this preseason, earning a real contract and a job for the regular season could prove difficult. The Canes already have 13 forwards either on one-way contracts or expected to make the NHL roster with 2016 first-round pick Julien Gauthier also in the mix.
Nonetheless, Tuesday’s agreement ensures Torres will get at least an opportunity to keep his maligned NHL career alive when training camp begins in mid-September.
“(His physicality is) something we don’t have a lot of in our lineup, so we figured we’d give him the opportunity to come into camp,” Francis said. “It’s a tryout, it’s not a contract, so he has to earn a contract and earn a spot in our lineup.”