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Ryan Reaves breathes new life into NHL career

Ryan Reaves cleans up the loose puck in front of the net as the Golden Knights tie the Capitals at 4-4 in the third period.

Basically, you can break down Ryan Reaves’ cross-check on John Carlson before his 4-4 goal from Game 1 in two ways:

  • An embarrassment because NHL officials missed the infraction.
  • An indictment of the league’s unspoken policy not to make calls because they want to “let them play,” when such decisions actually impede players from playing properly.

Objectively, that goal should not have counted, and the Capitals should have gone on the power play with a 4-3 lead during the third period of Game 1. If you want to hear about it, ask your nearest Caps fan.

(Check out Mike Milbury’s take in this video.)

All of that aside ... wow, that was a pretty impressive shot by Reaves. Watch what was a key goal in the Vegas Golden Knights’ 6-4 win over Washington in Game 1 in the clip above this post’s headline.

While they happened more than a week apart thanks to a lengthy layoff, Reaves is now on a two-game playoff goal streak, and the first one sent Vegas to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Oh, and it was a nice one, too:

Best hockey of his life

Moments like these remind you that even depth NHL players often boast way more talent than you might otherwise believe. Hey, Tanner Glass scored the first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it was pretty nice as well.

Reaves’ nice play is about more than a few fluke moments, too.

Via Natural Stat Trick, his Corsi For rating is up to 57.26 percent at even-strength over seven playoff games. (That’s really good.) Obviously, it’s a comically microscopic sample size, yet it impresses upon a larger theme: this Golden Knights team is simply teeming with players who are enjoying the runs of their hockey lives.

Let me make a prediction: at least one of the NHL’s 31 GMs is taking notice of this Reaves run.

If you must ...

The 31-year-old is a pending UFA, and while it’s obvious that he has a standing in the NHL (the Penguins did give up a first-rounder for him just last summer), Reaves is also of a dying breed.

That’s where things get even more interesting, actually.

Personally, I don’t think an NHL team should make a huge investment in Reaves. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fun and bewildering to see this renaissance happen, even with the occasional mixed feeling (much like when John Scott enjoyed his strange ascent to 2017 NHL All-Star Game MVP). My educated guess is that, in a vacuum, you’re probably better off devoting money and a roster spot to a skilled, “modern-style” player.

It’s in context that Reaves could be legitimately useful to a GM.

See, the vast majority of coaches seem to have this urge to have that “one guy,” usually a rough-and-tumble type whose style is becoming outmoded in the NHL.

For Mike Babcock, it’s questionable defenseman Roman Polak. Alain Vigneault’s love of Tanner Glass tormented more than a few Rangers fans. You could extend this exercise to virtually every coach in the league.

The opportunity comes if Reaves or Polak could stand as a “compromise” addition.

A GM could, theoretically, try to persuade a coach to lean in younger, more skillful directions by throwing them a bone by adding a Reaves-type player. Rangers fans, for instance, likely would have been at least a bit less annoyed with Glass’ frequent presence if it meant more, earlier opportunities for a potential difference-maker such as Pavel Buchnevich (whose best chance to prove himself came last season, a year late in the eyes of many).

Ideally, Reaves could “check that box” without dragging his team down too much when he’s on the ice. There could be times that even applies to the playoffs, as he’s less likely to take bad penalties because officials are more reluctant to use their whistles.

Good things have frequently happened for Vegas when Reaves has been on the ice, and it might happen to the point where it would throw things out of balance. In other words, this light bit of optimism might be dashed if, say, the Oilers or Canadiens handed Reaves a $3 million cap hit with term. In that case ... ignore the happy parts of this post, as that would become a headache for everyone except Reaves’ accountant.


Still, if you enjoy redemption stories, there’s something to like here with Reaves. Here’s hoping that the story remains positive along the way.


NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.