The Lens

Raffi Torres watched the opening faceoff from the left wing in Vancouver on Wednesday night and promptly took a stick to the face.

Torres, in the starting lineup for the six-seeded Sharks, played almost 16 minutes for San Jose in a 3-1 win over the third-seeded Canucks. He had six hits in 27 shifts and zero shots on goal.

Watching Torres make an impact for San Jose in a playoff game was a nice reminder that the context with which we watch the game is important. Understanding hockey through the lens of the Buffalo Sabres has an interesting effect on what we know about the league—and its players—as a whole.

Raffi Torres once played for the Sabres. He was traded to Buffalo by the Blue Jackets in 2010 in exchange for a second-round draft pick and defenseman Nathan Paetsch. Torres played 14 regular season games on a team that won the Northeast Division, picking up five assists and struggling to stay in the lineup. Torres played in four of six playoff games for the Sabres, who were knocked out by six-seeded Boston that year.

He had two assists in the postseason, but then-Sabres coach Lindy Ruff wasn’t happy with him. He hinted that he was out of shape. The player that was acquired at the deadline for a playoff run, who scored 19 goals for Columbus and immediatley became the Sabres’ leading scorer, couldn’t play for the Buffalo Sabres. He signed a contract with the Vancouver Canucks after that season.

If you live in Brampton, Ontario, you are familiar with a much different Raffi Torres. In the 1998-99 season, Torres scored 35 goals for the Battalion, finishing second in scoring behind future Ottawa Senators star Jason Spezza. He was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Torres could put the puck in the net, and the Islanders expected production out of him that warranted a top 5 pick in the draft.

He has scored 134 goals in 630 career regular season games.

Torres is widely known for this hit on Marian Hossa, which got him a 25-game suspension. Later reduced to 21 games, a year later it is what he is best known for. The severity of his suspension is likely to be the lasting legacy of his career. Meanwhile, Sabres fans know him for mostly being useless. Perhaps there’s someone in Brampton who can’t believe he didn’t turn into a star.

There’s a feeling of discovery that comes with watching playoff hockey when your team doesn’t make it. The adrenaline and emotions that come with involvement aren’t there, and that’s okay. Watching good hockey makes you remember that it’s supposed to be fun, and it usually is when good teams play one another.

Watching the playoffs has been like discovering ancient runes that have a language carved into them I somehow understand. All of this is unfamiliar, but somehow it makes sense. The overwhelming creativity of the Penguins. The methodical grind of Bruins hockey. For 48 games this year, these teams were viewed as The Other in a game where the Sabres sputtered and meandered on the ice. For players like Torres, in the faraway Western Conference, you rely on what you once knew. Even if it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Embracing playoff hockey this year means digesting the product without the Buffalo Sabres around to taint the taste. I’m eager to unlearn some of the things this year’s Sabres hockey has taught me about the game and how to watch it. I’m looking forward to watching Derek Roy with Vancouver and examining the Bruins in their natural habitat of meaningful games and tough hockey. Maybe it will give me the chance to learn something new.

I sure am tired of learning the same old lessons the home squad is offering.