By Mary Walsh
Hockey is a contact sport. That is an interesting euphemism for a sport that allows or encourages collisions and physical blows. There are rules, guidelines for this violence that require a degree of composure and calm that most people don’t associate with physical violence. Like in martial arts, precision is paramount and emotion is not precise.
Raffi Torres has received as much praise for hitting more and harder as for the three goals he earned before he started hitting again. He might even be getting more press for these hits, which presumably lifted his flagging team to the win over Pittsburgh on Thursday. Hits like Torres is making are credited with inspiring the team. The problem is, he probably should not indulge in that emotional hit himself while providing it for others. That takes a rare personality that he has not displayed to this point.
Two seasons ago, not too long before he was suspended for 25 games for a hit on Marian Hossa, he explained that he needed to keep emotion out of it:
My problem’s always been, I get a little too emotional out there. That’s when I get in trouble. But I’ve just taken a step back. -Yahoo! Sports
That is ironic, in view of the fact that these hits presumably energized his team on Thursday. How? Well he wasn’t hitting Sharks, except for Tommy Wingels. So he wasn’t physically shaking them awake. The hits energize the team by way of emotion. So Torres is supposed to stay cool-headed to get his team emotionally worked up. It is sort of unfair, and fairly risky.
Obviously a hit can be effective without being spectacular. Knocking someone off the puck can be doubly effective if the hitter is not taken out of the play along with the target. The less heavy the hit, the quicker the hitter can get back in play. Big hits can also interrupt the team’s momentum if a penalty is called, or if a fight results.
The first is never a good thing anywhere. The second is not a good thing, particularly in the offensive zone. If the team is buzzing around in the right place to get a scoring chance, stopping that for a fight is not helpful. Big hits, like fights, are of limited strategic value, no matter how much some spectators like to watch them.
Like the guy in charge of carrying the explosives, Torres can’t afford to get the jitters or get angry or have any other emotional response to the game. If that is too much for him to do (and it would be entirely understandable if it is, since it would seem the other Sharks need so much help maintaining the right emotional level), maybe he should stick to scoring or setting up goals. Those can help inspire a team too. Most players jump to their feet and look very excited when their team scores. Goals also win games, no matter how many hits either team throws.
Even if the safety of opponents is not a concern, the Sharks need to consider whether Torres is worth keeping around as an asset. As his hits build, so do the odds that the team will lose him to another suspension. The Sharks would do better to find an alternative emotional booster. If the Sharks can’t wake themselves up, maybe someone should just give them a nice, non-concussion inducing slap.