Mark Madden: Penguins' Ryan Reaves proves value
Is using a goon necessary in today's NHL? Probably not.
Is using a goon consistent with the Penguins' speed-first style, a method that captured the last two Stanley Cups? Definitely not.
But Ryan Reaves isn't a goon. He's a big body who's good with his knuckles but also a decent skater who can play hockey just well enough.
It mostly doesn't matter who the fourth-line right wing is, especially on a star-laden team where the top guys get mega-minutes.
But Reaves has made a difference in two recent games:
• On Feb. 6, he aroused the slumbering Penguins with a big hit on Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore. Reaves also scored the Penguins' first goal as they bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Western Conference leaders 5-4. Reaves totaled seven hits and played a healthy 10 minutes, 15 seconds.
• On Thursday, Reaves' goal gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead. He also posted three hits as the Penguins topped Los Angeles, 3-1.
Making tangible contributions to winning two games is more than some fourth-liners do in a season. What would Josh Archibald do? Less.
Fanboy nitwits posing as champions of the pure sport of hockey bemoaned the cost of acquiring Reaves from St. Louis, namely center Oskar Sundqvist and dropping 20 places in the 2017 NHL Draft, from 31st overall to 51st.
Sundqvist is in the minors and has zero goals in 30 NHL games this season. That's four less than Reaves.
The stars feel more secure with Reaves in the lineup. Crosby often has expressed his extra comfort level when a player of Reaves' ilk dresses.
The Penguins have been physically taken advantage of less often this season. There's no stat to quantify that. But if you pay attention, you know. Since the NHL has done woefully when it comes to protecting the Penguins' elite players, GM Jim Rutherford sent a message: We'll do it ourselves.
Reaves was a healthy scratch three times in late January, but coach Mike Sullivan said the organization is satisfied with Reaves' play.
“Reavo's doing exactly when our expectation was when he came here,” Sullivan said. “He's a great teammate. He's a good, solid two-way hockey player. He brings a certain dimension of physicality to our team that we felt was important. He stands up for his teammates.
“He does a lot of the little things that endear him to his teammates and to the coaching staff. His play as of late has been strong.”
The Penguins' play also has been strong. Before last night's game, they were 14-4-1 since Jan. 1.
But is the team strong enough to win a third straight Cup?
The nonstop debate revolves around third-line center, though getting winger Michael Grabner from the New York Rangers reportedly has been mooted.
The best fit at third-line center is Ottawa's Derick Brassard, but Senators management reportedly wants a first-round pick, a top prospect and an additional element in exchange. Cap issues would have to be dealt with.
The question begs: Should the Penguins overpay in the trade market with a rare chance to make history beckoning?
Going slightly over the odds would be justified. But no deal offers guarantees. Not even trading all your bad players for all their good players, which Rutherford is doubtless attempting.
Riley Sheahan has three goals and seven assists in 19 games since the New Year. That's subpar, especially when Phil Kessel is on your wing much of the time. But it's better than what Sheahan had been doing, namely zilch.
Barring the acquisition of a significant upgrade like Brassard, Rutherford's Plan B at center might be sending a bag of pucks to Minnesota for the return of Matt Cullen. If Cullen recaptures the form he displayed in Pittsburgh — no small ask at 41 — he'd be a better fourth-line center at the very least.
Disclaimer: The Penguins want a right-handed faceoff man in the lineup. Right now, that's Carter Rowney. If a freshly procured left-handed center displaces him at that position, Rowney might move to fourth-line right wing to maintain that right-handed faceoff option.
That would scratch Reaves, whose praises were warbled above. Hockey is a funny old game.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).