Getty

It took Ryan Reaves three games to become a fan favorite in Pittsburgh

14 Comments

When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Ryan Reaves at the NHL draft general manager Jim Rutherford basically said that he was tired of seeing his team get pushed around every night.

That comment — and the trade itself — came just a few weeks after he was highly critical of the league’s treatment of star players by saying this to Ken Campbell of the Hockey News.

“I hear year after year how the league and everyone loves how the Penguins play. ‘They play pure hockey and they skate.’ Well, now it’s going to have to change and I feel bad about it, but it’s the only way we can do it. We’re going to have to get one or two guys…and some of these games that should be just good hockey games will turn into a sh—show. We’ll go right back to where we were in the ’70s and it’s really a shame.”

Translation: If the league won’t protect our guys, we will find somebody to do it for us.

Enter Reaves, one of the biggest, strongest, and most physical players in the NHL.

On Saturday night, just his third game with his new team, he instantly became one of the most popular players in the city by getting into two fights, scoring a goal, trash talking the Predators bench, being named the game’s No. 1 star, and then conducting his post-game locker room interview while wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet. During the game, a 4-0 Penguins win in a Stanley Cup Final rematch with the Nashville Predators, his name echoed throughout PPG Paints Arena after each of his fights and after a late-game dust up with long-time Penguins nemesis Scott Hartnell.

If he puts Brandon Dubinsky in a headlock the next time the Penguins play Columbus they might already have the statue in the place.

Overall, the game was a case study in what a player like Reaves can do.

And also what he can not prevent.

At the end of the night pretty much everybody saw what they wanted to see from the game.

If you’re a Penguins fan, Penguins management or most especially a Penguins player you saw retribution. You saw a player stand up for your stars and get a pound of flesh in return. It was a message, and it was probably satisfying, especially in a win.

But, on the other side of it, the only reason he had to distribute some retribution and get that pound of flesh in return is because chippy stuff was still happening on the ice to your star players.

If you belong to the school of thought that fighters don’t deter violence and cheap shots (the side I fall on) you still saw Sidney Crosby get punched in the head during a scrum. You still saw him take the butt-end of a stick to the face during a face-off. You still saw Evgeni Malkin get run behind the net and then later in the game get held down behind the play. You saw Hartnell high-stick Crosby while Reaves was skating on his wing, and after Reaves had previously attempted to draw Hartnell into a fight earlier in the game.

Those two fights — one with Cody McLeod and another with Austin Watson) and one attempted fight didn’t make anybody on Nashville think twice about doing anything.

There is an argument to be made all it did was make the game nastier (the aforementioned sh–show that Jim Rutherford talked about last postseason) than it otherwise would have been.

 

As Saturday night showed teams are still going to try to push the Penguins around if they want to. They are still going to have Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang in their crosshairs. That will never change and there isn’t a single player in the league that can make them stop.

The wild thing about Reaves’ game on Saturday is that he actually played a really good game. He only played seven minutes, but they were an effective seven minutes. When he wasn’t fighting, he was physical, but in a useful sense. He was aggressive on the forecheck, he skated well, and yes, he scored a goal, too. If he can provide something like that every single night he would absolutely be a useful fourth-line addition. But that doesn’t seem to be the expectation for him. That isn’t what anybody wants to see. They want to see the gloves off and skulls getting crushed whenever Sidney Crosby gets hit.

But there is a delicate balance between being the guy to stand up for your teammates and the guy that crosses the line and puts your team shorthanded because you’re trying for vigilante justice.

It did not hurt the Penguins on Saturday, and, admittedly, it all made for a pretty entertaining spectacle inside the building.

But there might come a time where it does hurt them because there is a fine line between standing up for yourself and letting things get out of control. (Remember, the Blues lost a playoff game last season in large part because Reaves took an extra penalty during a scrum, leading to a power play goal against in what would go on to be a one-goal loss).

One of the biggest flaws the Penguins had toward the tail end of the Dan Bylsma era was that they were too easy to rile up and they would become too preoccupied with getting even when somebody wronged them on the ice. They would become maniacs and lose sight of the task at hand (winning) because they had to respond physically. Remember that 2012 playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers? Total disaster.

Over the past two seasons they let that stuff go, not only because they didn’t have anyone on the team to answer it, but also just the overall mindset of the team.

Did that mean teams would push them around a bit? It sure did. But do you know what teams didn’t do? Beat them when it count.

Golden Knights make dream come true for young fan battling cancer

Leave a comment

He may not be on the payroll, but 13-year-old Doron Coldwell is a Vegas Golden Knight through and through.

But his story begins long before the Golden Knights stepped onto the ice for their inaugural season in 2017-18. As documented during a “My Wish” segment this summer on ESPN, Coldwell’s connection with the Golden Knights began with some heart-breaking news.

At first, the tests were inconclusive.

In June 2013, Coldwell’s mother Liat, a nurse, had noticed that his glands were swollen but a series of tests didn’t result in any concrete diagnosis of a problem.

“That started the rollercoaster ride for the next two years of he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this, he doesn’t have this,” said Brett Coldwell, Doron’s father. “But he wasn’t getting any better.”

Liat feared the worst.

“I had a very bad feeling that we were dealing with cancer,” she said.

Those fears would become reality. The diagnosis would finally come: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His chemotherapy began in 2017.

Weakened by his treatments, Brett said that at one point Doron told him that “worst-case scenario, I guess I get to go be with Jesus.”

Instead, Doron, with a little help from the Golden Knights, began to heal.

“The chemo was working,” Doron said.

Gold being the color of pediatric cancer, Liat refers to her son as her ‘Golden Knight’.

And through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and with the help of the team that helped him heal — his cancer in remission — Doron recently became an official Golden Knight for a day.

Doron got a chance to meet the team. A locker bearing his name was in the team’s dressing room and for the first time, he got outfitted in goalie gear and received the full pre-game experience, including being introduced to an assembled crowd at City National Arena, the team’s practice facility.

With a little instruction of Marc-Andre Fleury, Doron was stopping Vegas’ top goalscorers with ease on an unforgettable day.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

Getty Images
4 Comments

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

Getty
4 Comments

Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.