Ryan Reaves breathes new life into NHL career

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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.

/shudders

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.

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MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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

Hurricanes remain ‘hopeful’ for a Justin Williams comeback

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When Justin Williams announced in September he would be “taking a break” from hockey, he didn’t shut the door entirely on a possible comeback at some point this season.

“Because of my current indecision, and without the type of mental and physical commitment that I’m accustomed to having, I’ve decided to step away from the game,” wrote the 38-year-old Williams.

With the Hurricanes sitting in an Eastern Conference wild card and only two points away from a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division, adding a veteran goal scorer like Williams would only help. What he brings on and off the ice is immeasurable, and it was clear last season just how valuable he was to a budding young team. The team is hopeful he’ll return to play and are keeping the lines of communication open.

“We continue to talk with him. I think he’s working out a little bit more on his own right now,” Hurricanes GM Don Waddell told the team website this week. “I think he’s going to start coming to the gym a little more. That’s a positive sign. What that end result is yet is still a mystery to all of us, but we’re hopeful that maybe there is an opportunity there to have him come back.”

Waddell isn’t the only one who’s unsure of a Williams return. Williams himself sounds like he’s been back and forth on what his future holds, according to head coach Rod Brind’Amour.

“I don’t know. I think we’re getting closer to a time where if he doesn’t, then he’s not,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s got to get in game shape and do all that, so there’s a time frame for that. There’s still time for that. … We talk quite a bit. We mostly talk about kids and how’s coaching going. I’ll ask if he’s staying in shape or getting in shape, and he’ll some days say, ‘Yeah,’ and then say, ‘Ah, maybe.’ So, we’ll see.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kessel returns to Pittsburgh trying to find his game for Coyotes

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When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in August (for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defense prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph) it gave them the type of player the organization had been lacking for years: a bonafide star forward, and one that was capable of scoring at a level that no Coyotes player had reached in close to a decade.

For a team that was just a couple of games away from the playoffs a season ago — despite an absurd season-long run of injuries that consistently decimated the roster — it was the type of move that could not only generate excitement within the fan base (it did, and they have the season ticket sales to prove it), but also give the team the last extra push it needed to get over the hump and end what is currently a seven-year playoff drought.

With Kessel set to make his first visit to Pittsburgh since the trade on Friday night, the Coyotes have put themselves in a great position to end that drought, sitting on top of the Pacific Division after 30 games thanks to their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

What is perhaps most surprising about their current spot in the standings is they have done it while getting minimal offensive impact from Kessel, even with his two-goal effort in Thursday’s win.

The early numbers are kind of staggering given the high bar Kessel has set for himself over the years offensively.

  • His six goals are his fewest through 30 games since his rookie year in 2006-07 (five goals).
  • He has been held without a goal in 26 of the team’s first 30 games.
  • He has just one even-strength goal on the season, with the other five coming on the power play (including both goals on Thursday — one of which was also an empty-net goal).
  • He is on pace for just 16 goals over 82 games. If he does not improve on that it would be his lowest total since his rookie year (11) and the first time since 2007-08 (his second year in the league when he missed 10 games) he did not top 20 goals in a season.

Some decline in his overall production should have been expected.

Not only because he is another year older (32) and another year away from his prime, but because he went from playing on a veteran, star-laden roster in Pittsburgh that plays one of the most up-tempo styles in the league, to a young Arizona team that, while talented, does not have Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the middle of its lineup.

Even with all of that in mind this is still a pretty significant drop across the board, but it does not mean all hope is lost for him this season. Like any elite goal scorer Kessel can be notoriously streaky and score goals in bunches (this is not a knock on Kessel; it’s a reality for all players across the league), and it’s also not the first time he’s started a year slow. In his first year with the Penguins back in 2015-16 he had just nine goals through 30 games before getting hot in the second half, then catching fire in the playoffs on the way to the first of back-to-back Stanley Cups.

While Kessel has not exactly lit the world on fire for the Coyotes, the trade has not exactly been a rousing success for the Penguins.

For all of Kessel’s flaws as a player, the Penguins absolutely miss his presence on a power play unit that been mostly dysfunctional this season. A lot of their power play the past few years ran through him, from his ability to gain entry into the zone (a problem for the Penguins this year), to his playmaking, to his ability to finish. Even with all of his struggles in Arizona offensively his five power play goals are more than any player on the Penguins.

They also have not received anything close to what they hoped they would from Alex Galchenyuk, which is starting to become a pretty big issue. He has just two goals through his first 20 games and has mostly been relegated to fourth-line duty. Even with the Penguins missing several regulars in their lineup he has not topped the 10-minute mark in three of the team’s past four games, while general manager Jim Rutherford on Thursday (via The Athletic’s Josh Yohe) that Galchenyuk is not a lock to remain in the lineup when everyone is back. Galchenyuk always seemed like a one-and-done player in Pittsburgh from the very beginning — Joseph is the key long-term piece — but they probably expected more than this.

The funny thing about all of this is the trade has not really done much for either team through the first quarter of the season, but both teams have still managed to put themselves on solid ground.

The Coyotes are healthy and in first place and still have the hope that a Kessel goal-binge is lurking somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

The Penguins are overcoming their injury issues, playing the way they want to play, and finding ways to collect points while they wait for their regulars to return.

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.

Laila Anderson meets bone marrow donor

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Laila Anderson has made us shed a tear or two (or several) over the last year, and she was involved in another touching moment on Thursday night.

It was special to witness the 11-year-old’s journey. We got to see her ups with the St. Louis Blues and we also got to see the emotion behind her battle with a rare auto-immune disease, HLH. Last night, Anderson got to meet the person who helped her get better, as she got to interact with Kenton Felmlee, who ended up being her bone marrow donor.

“I felt a bond with her before we ever met. I think the second I look at her on the stage and saw her face,” Felmlee, who is a sophomore at the University of Kansas, said, per Fox 2 Now St. Louis. “Every emotion that I was feeling all exploded into so much more.”

As you can tell from the above video, their first interaction was incredibly emotional.

“I don’t care if we go to dinner or if we go to Disney World. I don’t care what we do, I just want to spend time with you,” Laila told her new friend on Thursday night.

And, of course, Anderson and Felmlee will be attending Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Calgary Flames sign deal for new downtown arena

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CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — The Calgary Flames have a deal for a new downtown arena, a 35-year agreement that keeps the NHL club in the city for that time.

The team, the city and the Calgary Stampede rodeo signed an agreement Thursday to replace the 36-year-old Scotiabank Saddledome.

The 19,000-seat arena is to cost more than $417 million. Construction is expected to begin in 2021, just north of the Saddledome. The arena will be demolished between 2024 and 2025.

The project is part of a downtown revitalization. The building will become the home of the Flames and part of a planned entertainment district bordering the Stampede grounds.

The Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., which owns the Flames, and the city will split the costs. The Stampede is a not-for-profit community group.