Luke DeCock

Hurricanes’ Torres tryout makes no sense – DeCock

Raffi Torres, left, then with the Columbus Blue Jackets, tries to control the puck in front of Detroit Red Wings' Todd Bertuzzi during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, in 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
Raffi Torres, left, then with the Columbus Blue Jackets, tries to control the puck in front of Detroit Red Wings' Todd Bertuzzi during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, in 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon) AP

Based on everything Ron Francis has done to date, there’s no reason for the Carolina Hurricanes not to extend his contract as general manager through 2019. While he was unable to effect an immediate turnaround, he has slowly built a foundation for the future. While he still hasn’t gotten the team into the playoffs, that could, and probably should, change this season.

And then on the same day that extension was announced – a fait accompli that was already being finalized when coach Bill Peters received an extension last month – Francis did something that raises questions about where this franchise is headed, or at least what it values.

The Hurricanes extended a training-camp tryout not to an honest, genuine player who might help the team, or at least deserves a chance to show other teams what he can do, but to as dirty a dirtbag who ever scrambled an NHL player’s eggs: Raffi Torres.

A cynical, head-hunting predator suspended five different times for a total of 74 games – not counting the time he was let off the hook because the NHL suddenly invented an imaginary “hitting zone” behind the net, one of the league’s most cowardly moments – Torres has over the course of his career demonstrated zero respect for his fellow players. His most recent suspension, for a hit last preseason, was for 41 games.

Torres isn’t a deterrent. He’s a first-strike weapon. He is the one who knocks. There’s no place for him in the NHL. Yet the Hurricanes are giving him one, however tenuous.

“You all know the way I played the game,” Francis said Tuesday. “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. Hopefully he’s in a different place here moving forward.”

It is a tryout. It’s not like we signed him to a four-year deal. We’re giving him the opportunity to come in and show us he can play, and if he does then we’ll have that discussion further down the road.

Canes general manager Ron Francis on Raffi Torres

At least the Hurricanes won’t have to face Torres in preseason if he’s with them. If he does something to get suspended, they can release him from his tryout contract and don’t have to hold a roster spot open during his suspension, the NHL confirmed Tuesday. (Torres would have to serve any suspension before playing in the NHL, with the Hurricanes or anyone else.)

Torres, 34, is represented by the same agency that represented Francis in his playing days, and because of that, there’s a belief that the Hurricanes can keep Torres in line at this point in his career, especially coming off a knee injury that leaves some doubt over whether he can even still play. There’s a long line of Hurricanes under contract ahead of him. And over the course of his career, his teammates speak well of him, even if the players on the other 29 teams will not (including members of the 2006 Hurricanes, who had to deal with his antics in the Stanley Cup finals).

“It is a tryout,” Francis said, with more than a hint of exasperation. “It’s not like we signed him to a four-year deal. We’re giving him the opportunity to come in and show us he can play, and if he does then we’ll have that discussion further down the road.”

It’s actually a discussion that needs to happen now, because the Hurricanes are enabling one of the worst predators ever to put on an NHL jersey.

Because ask yourself, as Torres may when he sees an opposing player coming across the ice, with his own career on the line, whose career will he be thinking about? Will he deliver yet another crushing blow to someone’s head in service to his own delinquent ego or show respect for a fellow player?

Torres’ answer has always been Torres. Never his fellow union members, who are fathers, sons, husbands. Never the game of hockey. It’s always been Torres.

If that existential question is posed again, and maybe it will be and maybe it won’t, how’s he going to answer this time, now that the Hurricanes have put him in a position where his career is hanging in the balance?

Caveat emptor.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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