Manny Malhotra has walked in Raffi Torres's shoes.
Malhotra, a Vancouver Canucks centre, couldn't find a job in the summer of 2009 and had to sign a short-term, low-money deal with the San Jose Sharks to jump-start his NHL career. The way Torres sees it, Malhotra's revival serves as a blueprint for what he's hoping to achieve with the Canucks in 2010-11.
Torres, a veteran winger, settled for a one-year contract worth $1-million (all currency U.S.) to join the Canucks, an offer that didn't come until late-August, following a summer that was "terrible [and]horrible. I was pulling out my hair, and yelling at my wife." Malhotra actually had to wait longer than Torres - he signed with San Jose for $700,000 in September of 2009, after training camp had begun - but he parlayed a terrific season into a three-year, $7.5-million pact with Vancouver in free agency this July, charting a course that Torres would like to emulate.
But before Torres can re-establish his market value, he and Malhotra first have to anchor Vancouver's revamped third line, a unit that underwent construction this summer as general manager Mike Gillis sought size and toughness - two elements that were lacking in the past two postseasons. The former first-round draft picks are skating together at training camp alongside Jeff Tambellini, another free-agent addition, having gained familiarity with each other as members of the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this decade.
"Knowing one another helps out a lot," Malhotra said. "Having played with one another before makes the transition easier. But definitely our styles of play, the simplicity of them - using speed, being in on fore-checks, working corners - that type of thing is going to bode well for us."
Torres's career seemed ready to soar in 2006, when he played a significant role in the Edmonton Oilers' run to the Stanley Cup final. But he followed that up with three middling seasons, and his career fell off the table last year after a trade to the Buffalo Sabres from Columbus at the deadline.
Torres, 28, didn't score in 18 games with the Sabres - he was even a healthy scratch - and his fade was poorly timed given his pending free agency. He admitted that playing under a three-year contract in Columbus led to complacency, and there were "games where I just wasn't in it." But the wake-up call of a summer spent waiting and stewing has produced some giddy-up at the South Okanagan Events Centre this weekend.
"I've got to believe [his motivation]is as high as it has ever been," head coach Alain Vigneault said. "There's a player who has been around in the league, has played on good teams, and all of a sudden, he finds himself in a summer where there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in him. So, he's getting a real good opportunity here, and hopefully he'll make the best of it."
Torres said he will now approach every game as though it is his last, because, "I never want to be in that situation again." He said that scoring slumps have long been his nemesis, because he begins pressing and starts losing his way. So, he's on guard for the start of the season, saying he will play a simple game and let the goals come.
"I'm hungry again," Torres said. "That's the thing: You sign a one-year deal for not too much cake, if you don't have a great year, you're on the outs looking in."