LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Raffi Torres spent the past year in Phoenix and San Jose trying to shake his reputation as a dangerous player.
His hit on Los Angeles centre Jarret Stoll might have erased much of that work and put both players’ post-season futures in doubt.
Stoll is likely to miss Game 2 of the Kings’ second-round playoff series against the Sharks on Thursday night. The valuable two-way forward didn’t return to the series opener after a hard hit from Torres late in the second period of Los Angeles’ 2-0 victory.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter implied Wednesday that Stoll could be out for a significant length of time. Torres also might be sidelined for a stretch after he travels to New York for a disciplinary hearing Thursday with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which suspended him until the hearing is completed.
“I thought it was careless,” Sutter said of Torres’ hit, which occurred near the sideboards after the puck rolled away from Stoll.
A lengthy suspension wouldn’t make Sutter feel any better about Torres’ play, either: “Our player is quite a bit more important than theirs.”
During the defending Stanley Cup champions’ 2-0 victory over the Sharks, Stoll was bent forward when Torres approached him from the side for a shoulder-to-shoulder hit. Stoll’s head also snapped back violently before he fell forward onto the ice. Torres was called for a minor penalty for charging, and Stoll didn’t return to the game.
Most of the Kings declined to weigh in on the hit’s legality after Wednesday’s light practice, claiming they hadn’t seen replays. Stoll attended the Kings’ team meeting before practice, but wasn’t on the ice.
The Sharks had much stronger opinions about the play: Torres, captain Joe Thornton and coach Todd McLellan all said the hit was perfectly legal, and shouldn’t even have resulted in San Jose’s only penalty in Game 1.
“We questioned the call of a charging penalty,” Thornton said. “So we were kind of shocked to hear he has to fly to New York for the hearing, because we didn’t see anything wrong on the play. … It’s unfortunate that Raffi has to go through this again.”
Further complicating matters, Stoll and Torres are friends after three seasons as teammates with the Edmonton Oilers from 2005-08.
The Kings would lose plenty without Stoll, a stalwart on their championship team last summer. Stoll is their third-line centre and a top penalty-killer and faceoff specialist, playing a valuable two-way game while also logging time on the power play.
Although he doesn’t score many points, getting just one assist in seven playoff games this spring, Stoll scored the series-winning goal in last season’s upset of top-seeded Vancouver in the first round on the way to the title. He also has a history of apparent concussions earlier in his career.
“He’s a big loss, one of our most valuable guys,” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty said. “Everybody else will have to step up if we want to keep going forward.”
Torres’ absence isn’t likely to affect the Sharks’ offensive efforts against goalie Jonathan Quick, who shut them out on 35 shots in the series opener. But Stoll’s absence on defence changes the mix for Los Angeles, which must entrust additional ice time to role players without one of its leaders.
Brad Richardson, who played 13 games during the Kings’ championship playoff run, is likely to replace Stoll in the lineup for Game 2. Richardson hasn’t played in this post-season since Game 1 of the Kings’ first-round series with St. Louis.
“It’s huge, because he’s one of our clutch players,” Richardson said of Stoll. “He’s the first guy on the penalty kill, and he’s a power-play guy.”
Even if it is deemed legal, the hit ignites another round of trouble for Torres, the journeyman forward whose ugly reputation has surfaced again.
While playing for Phoenix last season, Torres received a 21-game suspension—initially 25 games—for a high hit on Chicago star Marian Hossa in the first round of the playoffs. That play cemented Torres’ identity as a cheap shot artist and dangerous player in many NHL minds.
But the former No. 5 overall draft pick insists he has cleaned up his game during a season of largely trouble-free play with San Jose, his sixth team in six seasons.
“If he is going to miss some games, we’re going to miss him,” said Sharks forward Logan Couture, who thought the hit was clean from his on-ice viewpoint. “But it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up the physical play and try to take over his role. We’re going to support Raffi, and whatever happens, happens.”
Kings forward Dustin Penner thought Torres’ hit was objectionable mostly because it was unnecessary. He sees little comparison to the hit by Ottawa’s Eric Gryba on Montreal centre Lars Eller in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, resulting in a two-game suspension for a blow that left Eller with a concussion and a broken nose. Eller didn’t return to the series as the Senators advanced.
“I think that hit (in Ottawa) was fine,” Penner said. “I know some people don’t, but it’s a split-second decision. You guys can slow it down to .001 milliseconds, but he’s got to make that hit, and this one (by Torres), he probably didn’t need to make that hit. That’s where I see the difference.”