To Raffi Torres, and perhaps anyone who knows the rugged Phoenix Coyotes forward, his 21-game suspension probably feels more like a one-year banishment from the National Hockey League.
OK, how about nine months?
Yes, it was nine months to the day Monday that Torres was suspended 25 games for a hit to the head of Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Western Conference quarter-finals on April 17 in Chicago.
Torres, who later had the suspension reduced to 21 games, has had six incidents that have required supplemental discipline since he broke into the NHL with the New York Islanders during the 2001-02 season.
Thanks to the Coyotes’ run to the West finals last spring, the 31-year-old Torres had only eight games to serve entering the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign that started on Saturday. He’s eligible to return Feb. 2 against Dallas.
“I can’t afford to go through something like that again,” Torres told the Arizona Republic last week in reference to the Hossa incident. “There are some things that I’m going to have to change if I want to keep playing in this league at a competitive level. I know I can bring more to the game than just physical play.”
Goal-scoring, playmaking and the occasional hit were a big part of the Toronto native’s game several years ago during his junior days with the Ontario Hockey League’s Brampton Battalion.
The six-foot, 210-pound left-winger scored 43 goals and 91 points in 68 games with Brampton in 1999-2000, and two months later the Islanders made Torres the fifth overall draft pick. He then capped his three-season OHL career with a 70-point campaign in 55 starts.
During the next two weeks, Torres said he plans to meet with the Coyotes coaching staff for a video session in hopes of determining how he can still play a physical game without accruing punishment.
“I’ve got some things we’re going to talk about before he gets back,” Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett told the Republic. “I think there are some things he can do to make him a better player but maybe make him a little less dangerous player. “He’s a rugged guy. He plays hard, and that’s how he’s going to have to play. But there’s some areas of the game we can show him where we can take some of the recklessness out of it.”
The good news is Hossa, sometimes the forgotten man in this story, opened the season with Chicago in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, scoring twice and adding an assist.
In his previous NHL start, Hossa’s head was jolted by Torres's shoulder, sending the Hawks winger to the ice. He was taken off on a stretcher and spent a short time in hospital before being released
On Saturday, Hossa logged 17 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time and finished with a plus-2 rating.
“I tried to keep it simple, especially in the beginning [of the game]. I hadn’t played in a long time … after the concussion,” he told Chicago reporters Saturday. “I was worried about [the concussion] when it was the beginning of November and that’s why I practiced so hard to be comfortable going into the corners.
“After I was [medically] cleared in mid-November then I was happy where I was. In my head it’s clear.
“The game conditioning is something different,” said Hossa, who led the Blackhawks in scoring last season with 77 points. “We have to build it in. It’s going to take a couple of more games to be where we want it to be.”
Hossa, along with Blackhawks fans, might have April 20 circled on the calendar. It’s the next time Torres and the Coyotes pay a visit to the United Center.
After the NHL issued 56 suspensions last season — including pre-season, regular season and post-season — the only other NHL player currently barred is Islanders defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky.
The team suspended the 11-year veteran three games last week for not reporting to the team following the 113-day lockout.
Visnovsky, 36, played in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout and expressed his desire to remain after the NHL and NHL Players’ Association reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. The KHL reportedly has denied the player’s request to extend his contract for the balance of this season.