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In Defense of Raffi Torres

When the rumour mill churns out a name other than Jarret Stoll or Joni Pitkanen, it's usually Raffi Torres. A player widely disparaged (see here for one particularly repugnant example) by hockey commentators and bloggers alike, the general consensus seems to be that he not only isn't worth his contract, but that he won't help the Edmonton Oilers win hockey games.

Everyone who agrees with that consensus should consider my arguments below, because I think you are completely wrong.

Take, for instance, 2006-07. Torres played the toughest minutes of any forward not named Fernando. When he was on the ice, the Oilers averaged 2.50 goals for per game, while surrendering 2.86 goals against. When he was off the ice, the Oilers scored 1.99 and allowed 2.96. Let me rephrase that:

1) Raffi Torres played against the other teams' best opponents
2) Despite this, the Oilers scored more goals
3) Additionally, the Oilers allowed fewer goals

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Raffi Torres improved the Edmonton Oilers in 2006-07, despite only scoring 15 goals against the best players in the NHL. Somehow, Torres ranked only 8th among regular forwards in average ice time per game (14:19) behind such luminaries as Petr Nedved and Joffrey Lupul. He also ranked 8th in powerplay icetime, providing no gravy minutes for him to inflate his statistics (Note: While a historically poor powerplay option, Torres still, like virtually every player in the NHL, scored more points/60 on the powerplay than 5-on-5). Additionally, after two seasons with more than 14% shot accuracy, Torres slipped to 9.7% and still performed well. That isn't all either; Torres also led the team in hits.

Let's ignore 2006-07, than, and focus on this past season, when Torres went down 32 games in. As we can see, yet again Torres played against top opponents (albeit not as difficult as 06-07; in 07-08 Torres ranked 5th among regular Oilers forwards in difficulty of opposition). When Torres was on the ice, the Oilers scored 2.04 goals/60, and allowed 2.31 goals/60; a smaller gap than the year prior (on the whole, the Oilers scored 2.5 goals/game and allowed 2.9- a ratio worse than that of Torres). This, despite being on pace for a career low 13 goals. This, despite firing a team- and career-low 5.7% shot percentage. Yet again, Torres was a physical force; his totals over 32 games prorate to 141 hits over an 82-game schedule. Yet again, that would have led all Oilers forwards. Torres was also on pace for 223 shots- another total that would have led the Oilers.

All things considered, the past two years, Raffi Torres may not have been a goal scorer, but he has been an extremely effective hockey player against some of the best in the NHL. People think of him as a failure if he doesn't score goals, but in doing so they procede from a false assumption- for the past two years, Torres has been deployed in a checking role, and he has done it well.