Players come and go. It’s a business, after all. A team can’t afford to keep them all, like a kid being unable to keep collecting toys. Eventually, one gets handed off to another owner.
When Ryan Reaves left the Blues, I was quietly mad. I use “quietly” because the Blues made a good trade with Pittsburgh and won a Stanley Cup last year. Reaves didn’t help the Blues win or lose a better chance at the Cup while he was in St. Louis, but he sure impacted the games they played. He formed a pretty special team with Scotty Upshall and Kyle Brodziak near the end of his time. Remember his sweetly blown kiss towards Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars? Of course you do. That was the “you’re fucked” before Pat Maroon said it last spring.
Reaves isn’t the first Blue I mourned after they left St. Louis. When Brett Hull went to Dallas 22 years ago, I was enraged. He was supposed to finish his career here, but the Blues got stupid about a no trade clause. Brendan Shanahan won multiple Cups, just like Hull, after he left St. Louis. Curtis Joseph was the same. David Backes was another.
Reaves was something else. A unique specimen on the ice that hockey sabes couldn’t come up with a true quantifiable value for. He could beat the crap out of your toughest guy, throw your second-toughest guy into the boards like a rag doll, and possibly score a goal that meant the game (it happened this past year after all).
Ever since I started watching hockey around 1988, I have held a special passion for fighters. The enforcers who could annihilate your best guy and laugh about it. Tony Twist, Kelly Chase, D.J. King, and Cam Janssen. When Reed Low got on the ice, someone had given him a number to go destroy. That was old time hockey, before the fragile spirits added extra penalties and neutered the sport.
Reaves managed to stay active this long, though, because he could play quality fourth line hockey. He didn’t just get out on the ice and stalk his prey. He was smart with the puck, could post up in front of the net and do damage, and then manhandle someone in the corner. Players had to know when Reaves hit them. It was like getting sacked by Lawrence Taylor or Mike Harrison. You just knew who did it, because your shoulder hadn’t snapped back into place just yet. It was a rugged beauty unlike Sidney Crosby going end to end or Robert Thomas treating opposing players like traffic cones.
You don’t stick around for ten-plus seasons these days if you are strictly an enforcer. It’s hard, and Reaves knew that. He upped his game before the last couple of seasons in St. Louis. It’s hard to get mad about a guy leaving who scored 27 goals in seven seasons with your team, but Reaves has put up 17 goals in the past two seasons with Vegas. Few would look to Reaves for offense, but he can provide it-along with dismantling the other team’s psyche in the process.
Reaves showed what he can do on Sunday night in a game between Edmonton and Vancouver. After a good hit and whistle, Reaves was visited by Antoine Roussel, aka official asshat of Canada now. Roussel poked Reaves with his stick and gave him an awkward hug. Refs tossed him a ten minute misconduct for it. Just like that, Reaves eliminated a pest. For the record, if they fought, Reaves would destroy him. One can only dream.
Not bad work for a guy who just received a two year extension from Vegas in June. You don’t get those at age 33 unless you can rumble in different ways on a hockey rink. He led the NHL in hits this season with 316. Think about that number for a minute. 316 hits. He had 305 in the 2018-19 season. For his career, Reaves has collected 2,181 hits.
I miss his play. I also miss his incredible kindness with fans away from the rink. His loving connection with Colin Schlereth, a courageous kid who took the fight to cancer a few years back. The way he always seemed to interact and engage with fans and go the extra mile that some players simply don’t commit to. Reaves did that, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
I miss that effortless kindness from a guy who can be ferocious on the ice. Someone who is cocky in a confident manner instead of a shameful one. Reaves knows he is tough and lets people know it. How sweet it was hearing him make chicken sounds at Roussel last night?!
While he’s with Vegas fighting for their first Cup (only been a few years, must be hard), I can still enjoy Reaves. He’s not wearing the blue note anymore, but he’s still wreaking havoc. I admire those kinds of players. The ones who don’t have all the gifts handed to them at birth, or are ushered into the league on a red carpet. Guys like Reaves have to double as hard to make it, and keep doing it to last.
It’s also nice to have a level of toughness on your team. Someone who can stand up to the baddest soul on the other team and simply say, “Nope. Not today.” The Blues didn’t have that this year after Pat Maroon left. Call me old fashioned, but I like saving one spot on a roster for an ass-kicker. A guy who can protect your best players and unleash justice.
Anyone should miss that. I hope Reaves finds his Cup this summer. Just beat up Roussel first. Right a wrong with the world, and then lift Lord Stanley.