Raffi Torres realizes there are those who have already judged him, found him guilty, and don’t want him anywhere near their favorite hockey team.
Torres also is aware the reaction was sudden, harsh and mostly negative in Raleigh this week when it was learned the Carolina Hurricanes had given the veteran forward a professional tryout offer (PTO) for training camp. With five suspensions in his 16-year career for questionable and dangerous hits, he expected the backlash, the vitriol.
“Obviously I’m very grateful to get this opportunity,” Torres said in an interview Friday. “I realize it’s probably my last shot, with where I am in my career. I’m grateful, I’m thankful and I’m excited.
“People are going to say what they’re going to say. I have not helped myself. You sleep in the bed you make. I accept that, I believe I had paid my dues and I have dealt with what I had to deal with. I think I can change the way I play.”
Torres, 34, said there have been times, and too often, that he let his emotions on the ice carry him over the line the separates tough, physical play from careless, dirty play.
A year ago, playing for the San Jose Sharks in a preseason game, the 6-foot, 215 pound Torres slammed into Anaheim Ducks forward Jacob Silfverberg, a blindside hit to the head that resulted in a 41-game suspension – the longest in NHL history for a hit.
I know I’ve got to change. I know I say that over and over, but I’ve got to change and I can change.
After the suspension, Torres was sent to the Sharks’ American Hockey League team, the San Jose Barracuda, later traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He became an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“I know I’ve got to change. I know I say that over and over, but I’ve got to change and I can change,” Torres said. “People say, ‘What about the five or six suspensions?’ and I understand that, but overall I think I can change, I can still play, can still be productive.”
Ron Francis believes so. The Canes general manager said this week that Torres has “served his time” and that the Canes were willing to bring him in and take a look.
Torres, the fifth overall pick of the 2000 draft by the New York Islanders, has played 635 career regular-season games but has not been in an NHL game since 2014 because of the suspensions and knee injuries. He has played 28 regular-season and playoff games since 2013.
“Can I score 25 goals? Probably not,” Torres said. “But I could come in and give them a player with some grit, a sandpaper guy. I can get in on the forecheck and instead of putting the guy in the third row, get the puck back and then get to the net. I can play that simple game.
“I just have to take a step backward. The speed of the game is higher than ever and the players stronger and faster. Obviously I can’t run around out there like I used to. I need to focus on what I know I can still do.”
Torres said has finally recovered from an ACL injury that kept him out the 2014-15 season and remained a lingering problem last season. He has participated in the BioSteel Camp in Toronto this summer, strengthening the knee and working on his overall conditioning.
“I’m excited to see what I can do,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone. It’s an opportunity. We’ll see what happens.”
Torres has twice played in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final – with the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, and with the Edmonton Oilers against the Canes in 2006. Late in the game in PNC Arena (then RBC Center) he had the shot from the wing that Canes goalie Cam Ward stopped, then snuffed out the rebound attempt by the Oilers’ Fernando Pisani.
“Tough loss but a great experience,” he said. “Great fans in Carolina. They were standing in pregame and never sat down. We left it all on the ice but the best team won.”