A friendly reminder here.
is not a direct replacement for this man:
I can’t believe that we’re having this discussion regarding a pair of fourth line wingers who average less than ten minutes of ice team a night, but here we are. I’ll begin this discussion by saying that I respect the hell out of Ryan Reaves and what he brought to the Blues. He adapted to the changing landscape of the NHL, slimmed down, developed his hockey skills, and became a part of a genuinely impressive fourth line. He did the job that he was hired to do and he did it well, both on the ice and in the room. Yes, other teams were on notice when his line was out there, but toward the end of his tenure with the Blues it wasn’t because Reaves would fight, it was because the physicality of his line was difficult to play against and because they created genuine chances.
He was also, by all accounts, a great locker room guy and a solid teammate who became fast friends with Vladimir Tarasenko, continuing a Blues tradition of scorers and enforcers as BFFs that continued in the steps of Brett Hull and Kelly Chase (but with probably less beer).
Reaves’ trade to the Penguins at the draft was surprising, though not just for the haul that he brought in return - it was surprising because Doug Armstrong made a point of protecting Reaves during the expansion draft. He valued Reaves more than David Perron, who had 18 regular season goals and 46 points. Why? Was it because there was already interest in Reaves at the draft? Was it based on intangibles? Was it based on an assumption that a quality fourth line is hard to assemble?
Whatever the reason for the deal, Reaves is doing fine in Pittsburgh:
His not-a-replacement, Chris Thorburn, had a rough first game against the Penguins and delivered a couple big hits before not dropping the gloves with Antoine Roussel.
Ben Frederickson wrote in the Post-Dispatch that the Blues were “ready for life without Reaves” thanks to the inclusion of Chris Thorburn.
“Fighting is one of my favorite parts of hockey,” Thorburn said without hesitation. “Even as a fan, growing up. I understand the draw it creates.”
Blues fans, meet your new enforcer. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound crash-and-bang forward is as blunt as a right hook to the jaw.
Yes, the 34-year-old father of two likes to punch people. No, he doesn’t always win. Heck no, he’s not ashamed of his role.
Right there, we see exactly why Reaves isn’t being replaced. He wasn’t an enforcer, at least not anymore. If you only view Reaves as a guy who punches people, then sure, Thorburn is a replacement. Not the best one, but a replacement nonetheless.
If you view Reaves as a player who honed a particular skill set to escape from being an enforcer, then the comparison between the two players isn’t clear.
I was a massive supporter of Thorburn’s when he was with the Atlanta Thrashers. There wasn’t a lot of good to hold on to close to the franchise’s end, but the dedication he brought to the team and the fact that he busted his ass as the franchise fell apart around him on a nightly basis speaks volumes. I once saw him block a slapshot with his shin that hit him with such force he crumpled to the ice. The look of pain on his face was incredible. He should’ve drug himself to the bench, but he didn’t - he stayed out there on one leg to break up offensive plays and managed to save a goal, all for a team that was out of playoff contention and basically out of the city.
Thorburn is a good guy, a good teammate. He is someone that you want in that room. He was someone you wanted on the ice six years ago. If you absolutely must try to compare the two gentlemen, compare the intangibles, but don’t compare what they bring to the team on the ice. It’s not even remotely the same at this point in both of their careers.
This isn’t a critique of the trade that dealt Reaves away to the Penguins - it was an excellent deal. This is, however, a reflection on the problems when you boil guys down to an assumed role. No two players are alike - and heaven knows Reaves and Thorburn aren’t.