The Pittsburgh Penguins and General Manager Jim Rutherford acknowledged, Friday, they were “getting a little bit tired of getting beat up, game after game.” After a flurry of table activity leading up to their pick, the Penguins gave up young minor league centerman Oskar Sundqvist and their first round pick (#31 overall) for St. Louis Blues strong man Ryan Reaves and the Blues second round selection (#51).
Rutherford and Sullivan were blunt. Reaves adds a dimension the Penguins lacked and Sullivan almost smiled as he described that missing element. Since the acquisition is controversial, here is Mike Sullivan‘s full answer:
“One of the tactics teams try to deploy against us is they try to be physical. They try to bang us. They try to slow us down. That’s one aspect that we noticed a little bit more this year. And, so, I think Ryan can help us with a little bit of pushback in that regard, but at the same time, he can play the identity of the Pittsburgh Penguins that we want to play. And that’s the most important thing. We believe we have a player who can fit into the style of play, that we’re trying to play, and it’s that speed game.”
You may watch the full Sullivan press conference, as well as Jim Rutherford’s media chat immediately after the trade, at DKPittsburghsports.com. (Cheap plug for the good work Josh Yohe and Matt Gajtka are doing here. Only three media outlets, including 93-7 the Fan and the PG are covering this event. Tough times. Hopefully you’ll support those outlets, the link to DK is above).
Reaves scored a career high seven goals and 13 points last season, to go with six fighting majors. Six, that’s all (not exactly a gong show).
Sullivan and Rutherford went out of their way to praise Reaves skating ability, each praised Reaves forecheck and his ability to finish checks on the forecheck.
Reaves can play hockey, which seems a lost fact in the immediate reaction in some corners of the fan base. Neither fact, that Reaves can play and some in the fanbase would revolt, were lost on the Penguins brass. Their immediate and complete breakdown of Reaves game to a handful of media folks (most of whom fall into the pro-protection crowd) was aimed at the section of the fanbase which only wants the beautiful part of the game.
Would it help if I said having Reaves would expand the beautiful part of the game?
Reaves will be the first full time heavyweight in the Penguins line-up since… Deryk Engelland? Marty McSorely? It will be a different dimension for the Penguins.
(Quotes from 93-7 the Fan and DKPittsburghsports.com)
Ryan Reaves can and will play a solid fourth line role. His speed will be a forecheck asset and his physicality on the forecheck will add pressure to opposing defensmen. Let’s not lose sight of that. However, he also provides a missing element, which was painfully obvious in the playoffs (you see what I did there?). Reaves skates well and that is the reason Rutherford called him, “the best at what he does”.
To those who say a player like Reaves doesn’t deter anything, I offer this quasi explanation:
Even if the Penguins had Reaves in this year’s playoffs, Kyle Turris would have ridden and cracked Sidney Crosby like Secretariat, in the Eastern Conference Final. At least a few times. Brandon Dubinsky and Tom Wilson would still take a few shots against the Penguins stars.
The game won’t stop because the Penguins added a tough element.
In the future, because the Penguins will have a guy who punches harder than anyone on the opposing roster, doesn’t mean the other team will cower in fear. Other teams will push. And push hard.
The difference, as Mike Sullivan noted, will be the Penguins ability to push back. For those of us who grew up before a playground fight was a police matter, the principle is more tangible. When someone punches you–the ability to punch back will earn space and respect.
The league is getting faster, so the Penguins speed advantage even with Kris Letang in peak form, is diminished. Washington nearly ended the Penguins run by pounding them into the ice. Only a classic Washington Game 7 choke, combined with the Penguins finding enough energy for one great game, advanced the Pens.
What if the Penguins had someone to drill Erik Karlsson? Not only would the Penguins bench be lifted, not only would Karlsson be slowed, but the Penguins would also have a chip to play against too much dirty play. And their opponent would know it.
Hockey, especially playoff hockey, is a playground fight. There aren’t many rules, only the limits of human conscience. The Canadian stoicism which is at the core of the NHL, posits that you must fight through garbage hockey to win the Stanley Cup.
And, until that mentality is changed, until NHL officials start calling penalties in the playoffs and Game 7’s, as they would in October, it’s up to each team to police the game themselves.
The Penguins escaped the Wild West, despite not having much help. Now, they have that help. And he can play hockey for only 1.125 million dollars. The Penguins got faster and tougher on their fourth line.
In fact, a few more big hits will only help the crowd at PPG Paints Arena.
This move could well be one of Jim Rutherford’s biggest hits. Mike Sullivan’s smile gave that away. I would imagine Sidney Crosby is also smiling.
That’s not a bad thing, is it?