Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Closer Look at Raffi Torres


Turns out he looks almost exactly like Steve Bernier. Don't see it yet? Read on.

My first thought when I heard this morning that the Canucks had signed Raffi Torres was, “Ugh, I hate Raffi Torres.” My second thought was, “Wait, maybe that’s a good thing.” The reason I hate Raffi Torres is because he’s a pain in the ass to play against. He hits hard, sets up camp in front of goalies, and agitates in a similar vein to Kesler and Burrows, all of which made me want to slap his stupid goatee off his face.

But now that he’s a Canuck, the fact that he hits hard, sets up camp in front of goalies, and agitates makes me want to like him. This is a hard thing to admit, because he spent several seasons as an Oiler, and I don’t like the Oilers. Fortunately, he spent the intervening time with the Blue Jackets and Sabres, two teams I don’t care about in the slightest, so that gives me some nice distance with which I can attempt to be objective. Still, the fact that he got signed on the same day that Willie Mitchell got signed by the Kings makes it feel like we lost Mitchell for Torres, like some sort of trade. Let’s face it, I love Willie Mitchell and hate Raffi Torres and it’s going to take some time to get over that. That said, let’s look at what Raffi Torres actually brings to the ice.

I have to admit that I haven’t seen Torres play enough to make any sort of judgment call on his abilities; instead, I have to go to the numbers. The first one that jumps out is the fact that he went from a $2.25 million cap hit last season to a $1 million contract this season. That’s a pretty significant drop, but it needs to be kept in mind that he was coming off two full 82 game seasons for the Oilers, in which he scored 41 and 34 points respectively when he signed that contract. The Oilers were hoping he could return to the 27 goals he scored in 2005-06. Instead, he suffered a major injury, missed most of the season, and was traded to Columbus.

With the Blue Jackets, he returned to form, scoring 20 points in 51 games in another injury-shortened season. He followed that up with 19 goals and 31 points in 60 games last season with Columbus, which was enough to garner interest at the trade deadline from the Sabres. In his 14 regular season games with them, he managed a measly 5 assists and ended up in the press-box after 4 post-season games; to quote Darcy Regier, "It didn't work." While he only missed a smattering of games in 2009-10, his injury history over the last three seasons combined with his disappointing post-trade deadline play for the Sabres sunk his chances of a big money contract, which is good news for the cap-strapped Canucks.

That about covers his offensive contributions: he’s scored at 0.42 points per game over his career, pretty consistently from season to season. While he may not be consistent game-to-game (he’s been slammed for being a streaky player everywhere he’s played it seems), that kind of tertiary scoring seems to be exactly what the Canucks need. As long as his shooting percentage doesn’t dive-bomb like it did from 2006-2008, he should be able to score close to 20 goals again. But what about the intangibles, such as physicality, defensive responsibility, douchiness, and special teams?


Click to Embiggen. Stats from NHL.com and BehindtheNet.ca.


When it comes to physical play, Torres is known for his grit, ability on the forecheck, and occasional massive hits of questionable cleanliness. He’s averaged 1.36 hits per game over the past 5 seasons, which is more than Burrows and Kesler managed last year, but well under Bernier, Hordichuk, and Glass. Glass, in particular, averaged 2.46 hits per game, a far cry from the league leaders, but still respectable (also notice Andrew Alberts at #13 on that list, 5th amongst defencemen; I wouldn’t write him off to make the Canucks lineup, especially with Mitchell gone). In any case, Torres does bring a physical edge to his game, but one that occasionally crosses the line. That said, only 34 PIM last season? That’s pretty good; while it makes me question his agitating abilities (surely he’d get more coincidental minors), it also makes me question the assertions that he takes stupid penalties.

Is he defensively responsible? Not especially. He’s definitely not a penalty killer, with a total of 14:41 of shorthanded time over the last five seasons (yes, total). His traditional +/- was -11 last season and -22 over the last five seasons. Last season, his +/- per 60 minutes was -0.51 goals per 60 minutes, which isn’t good at all; while he was on the bench, his team’s +/- per 60 minutes improved to -0.34 goals per 60 minutes. Simply put, his team gave up more goals than it scored when he was on the ice as compared to when he was on the bench. He started in the offensive zone 3rd most often among Columbus forwards, so his poor +/- can’t be attributed to that. His Quality of Competition was also not a factor, as he faced some of the weakest competition of anyone on either the Blue Jackets or the Sabres; clearly, he was not used in a checking role.

This makes me exceedingly nervous to see him line up on the third line alongside Manny Malhotra in a checking role, even though I would expect the Kesler/Raymond line to face the highest quality of competition among Canucks forwards once again. In all honesty, I’d be more comfortable with Torres as a fourth-line banger and crasher with some spot powerplay duty, where he’s experienced some success. He’s seen a regular powerplay shift over the last five seasons and scored 7 powerplay goals last season. If necessary, in case of injuries, he could slot into the second line. Essentially, he would take over the exact role Steve Bernier had last season at half the price.

In fact, Steve Bernier is near-perfect as a comparable player to Torres. Like Bernier, Torres was a first round pick who never panned out as a top-line forward. Bernier has averaged 0.45 points per game, quite similar to the 0.42 points per game of Torres. They both have a similar goals per game average as well, 0.22 for Bernier, 0.23 for Torres. Prior to joining the Canucks, Bernier was also traded to the Sabres. Okay, this is starting to get weird.

The two are about the same weight, though Bernier has two inches on Torres. And, like Torres, Bernier has had his own injury troubles, missing a large part of last season with a groin injury. However, there are some differences: Bernier hits far more than Torres, with 608 hits over his last five seasons in the NHL compared to 438 in the same time period for Torres. Torres is 4 years older and significantly less French than Bernier. The other big difference: Bernier is making $2 million this season. Again, Torres is half the price of Bernier for similar value.

So, with thoughts of Bernier and his various disappointments in a Canuck uniform in my head, I’m not ready to like Raffi Torres just yet. I like the signing – it’s only for one year and it’s only for $1 million – but I’m not sure I like the player.

2 comments:

  1. This is a well-put but far too sobering argument. Maybe it's the excitable fanboy in me, but I disagree with you about everything. Let's fight.

    Short rejoinder: I consider Tanner Glass's hit count inflated, maybe not by quantity, but by assumed quality. Did people watch out for him on the ice? Not really. Kittens bite a lot, but do their bites frighten? Nah. Glass is a kitten.

    And I don't think it's about quanity of hits either. I don't care how often we hit. I care when we hit. ANd hopefully, Torres's hits can be timely. Is there a stat for that? Awesome hits? Can we start measuring that?

    Torres is exactly that sort of batcrap insane that we need; the sort of guy who you know might do something really, really stupid. I want at least one of those guys on my team. Granted, I'll be the first guy to condemn him for doing something stupid when he does it, but I want other teams to live in fear well before that.

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