The San Jose Sharks announced that Raffi Torres underwent successful surgery to repair his torn ACL Thursday, Sept. 26. The link includes a short video statement by general manager Doug Wilson.
This means Torres will not return until the season is about half over. Depending on his recovery, he could be out until after the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics—over two-thirds of the 2013-14 NHL season.
There is no doubt this will have an impact on the standings. Torres will now start it on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), most likely being joined by Martin Havlat. The Sharks will then have the room to add free agents, but few are left capable of being their seventh forward.
While there have been mixed messages about the readiness of one Czech forward, another has been quite impressive stepping in: Tomas Hertl has three goals and an assist in three preseason games. That leaves only Raffi’s spot in the lineup vacant from the San Jose’s opening 2013 Stanley Cup playoff roster.
The mixed messages about Havlat’s readiness suggest he will start on LTIR but return before Torres. Knowing they will not even need the spot filled for half a season, the Sharks will look to players already on the payroll.
That elevates the potential for Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels and Anthony Stewart. Could this be the year that James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins or Adam Burish steps up? Will either Matt Nieto or Freddie Hamilton be able to translate their AHL resumes to an NHL role?
Because of these injuries, the Sharks enter the 2013-14 season with some questions. The list of San Jose’s five side effects to being down two forwards is not all negative, however.
It goes without saying that a team already down a key forward for an extended part of the season cannot afford to lose another for even longer. The San Jose Sharks have now lost two players thought to be vying for roles on the second line. Any injury to a scoring-line forward before Martin Havlat or Raffi Torres return would be absolutely devastating.
Perhaps the most obvious thing the San Jose Sharks will miss without Raffi Torres in the lineup is his trademark grit. He not only plays with an edge, but it is infectious beyond those that share the ice with him. There will be fewer hits and less fear from the opposition that one of them will cross the line, and that will have a negative impact on the standings.
It is easy to overlook that Raffi Torres is also a talented player. His fast game not only fits the new style of play that the San Jose Sharks have adapted, but he has some skill to back it up. The reason he was vying for the second line is he is a former 20-goal scorer with an above average shot that can pass. He is not going to be creative with the puck, but his abilities that enabled him to get the job done will be missed.
Just like the old days in the HP Pavilion—now the SAP Center, but always the Shark Tank to fans—the San Jose Sharks will be able to add a late-season trade for a Stanley Cup run. By putting Raffi Torres and probably also Martin Havlat on long-term injured reserve, they will create quite a bit of cap room.
They can use it to bolster the unit—perhaps right before the second injured forward returns. If both missed half a season, the Sharks would have over $3 million in space. Taking the second half of an added player’s contract means they could go after players worth over $6 million per season if they are on the trading block.
Perhaps the best side effect of all to the injuries to Martin Havlat and Raffi Torres is that it gives the San Jose Sharks a chance to cevelop some talent. Sure, it may cost the team a few points and even a little chemistry when players return, but it helps the team be that much more ready in the future—even as early as the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Not only will Tomas Hertl be assured of more time, but it is likely that either Matt Nieto or Freddie Hamilton will get ample playing time at the next level. Most of the other role-playing forwards are still young enough to develop from getting more minutes. This should lead to a deeper unit for the playoffs.