On Friday night around 10 p.m. at the NHL Draft, the Penguins made a trade. Perhaps you were asleep. Perhaps you were busy watching the Pirate game. Haha, just kidding! I know no one watches the Pirates right now.
The Penguins, true to Jim Rutherford’s words uttered during the Cup run, acquired some hired muscle to act as a deterrent to his guys getting beat up all the time. The Penguins got RW Ryan Reaves and a 2nd round pick (51st overall) in the 2017 Draft for C Oskar Sundqvist and the Pens 1st round pick (31st overall) in the 2017 Draft.
Reaves, 30, is a 4th line cement mixer. Last year he somehow scored 7 goals and had 13 points, but he wasn’t brought in here for his ability to stuff the scoresheet. Much like Russell Crowe’s character in L.A. Confidential, Bud White, he’s the guy the Penguins will bring in to scare the everlasting crap out of other teams. In theory, of course.
People who are in favor of this trade think that Reaves will act as a disincentive to other teams taking liberties on Sid and the other highly skilled players on the team. But when Crosby was busy getting concussed in back-to-back games in 2011 by the Capitals and Lightning, here’s the list of guys not afraid to throw hands that were on the roster:
- Aaron Asham
- Craig Adams
- Matt Cooke
- Derek Engelland
And yet teams had no qualms at all about attempting to re-wire the synapses of Crosby’s brain box.
I’m not mad that the Penguins traded Oskar Sundqvist. I always watch to see how players are utilized to determine how a team views that player. Sundqvist showed very little in his time in Pittsburgh over the past 2 seasons and had clearly been passed over by Carter Rowney in the playoffs, especially because Rowney is very good at winning faceoffs and brings a little grit to his game.
I’m not mad at Ryan Reaves, the person. At one point, he was the best player on his youth team. He was good enough to go to juniors with a great program in the Brandon Wheat Kings. He got drafted in the 5th round in 2005 (Crosby’s draft year). His current game is just not one that the Penguins have won with in the past two years. They’re a speed based team that rolls four strong lines in an attempt to spread a team’s defensive resources out. Reaves may very well be a good’ish player, but he’s just not a fit here.
I’m not mad at Jim Rutherford, although some of the reaction on Twitter on Friday night saying he shouldn’t be questioned after all the great moves he’s done the past two years is ridiculous. No one gets blind, unquestioned loyalty. After all, Rutherford did hire Mike Johnston. Let’s not act like he’s immune to a bad decision here and there.
I’m slightly mad about the asset management side of this deal. Again, getting rid of Sundqvist is no big deal. It should have been Sundqvist plus a 5th or 6th round pick for Reaves, at most. Instead the Penguins felt the need to kick the can down the road on a 1st round pick to 20 spots later into the 2nd round. It just seems so unnecessary.
What I’m truly mad at is the NHL itself. If the league would decide to exit its own stone age and put an end to fighting altogether and enforce its own rules on headshots and boarding calls, then there would be no need for the likes of Ryan Reaves at all.
Hockey is a beautiful sport when played at the highest level. The sport has the most free-flowing action of any of the four major U.S. sports. It blends speed, agility, and power to an unmatched level. But it triggers an almost animalistic tendency among players, of all skill levels, once the adrenaline starts flowing. The players are skating at high rates of speed carrying weapons and crushing bodies into static objects. Over a long enough timeline, that leads to trouble.
There should be a renewed effort by the NHL to clean up the game and highlight the true skills of its players. That’s how the game will grow, not by forcefeeding it into markets that don’t want it throughout the Sun Belt. The game of hockey has evolved with an exponential growth of speed and size. We as a people have evolved in our understanding of what repeated impacts can do to brain health. The NFL is still parsing throughout its concussion lawsuit; the NHL is just on the onset of theirs.
This trade for Ryan Reaves is, at best, a net neutral for the Penguins. He’s signed for just this upcoming season. He’s a fourth liner that will probably get 8-12 minutes of ice time per game. At worst he drags down his linemates if he can’t keep up with the skating or if he starts taking stupid retaliatory penalties.
But Reaves is representative of more than just a puzzling trade by the Penguins. Rather, he’s a walking/skating example of how the NHL still has so far to go in its own evolution.