If you don’t like the Penguins’ acquisition of enforcer Ryan Reaves from St. Louis, don’t blame GM Jim Rutherford.
Blame the NHL.
The Penguins gave the NHL, its Department of Player Safety and its referees ample opportunity to protect Sidney Crosby. (Evgeni Malkin, too, but Crosby is the primary issue because of his concussion history.)
The NHL failed the Penguins miserably.
Crosby has been beaten on like a piñata during his 12 NHL seasons, but only one suspension has ever been given for such: A mere one-game ban to Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky in 2015 for cross-checking Crosby’s head.
Abuse of Crosby won’t stop on the NHL’s account, and it certainly won’t stop organically.
Perhaps Reaves can make it stop, or lessen, or at least make the opposition think before indulging shenanigans.
Reaves’ presence offers no guarantees. He can always react. But will his presence deter foes from taking shots at Crosby?
Reaves, 30, is more legit than most of his ilk.
Reaves can skate. He can forecheck. Reaves isn’t just a fighter, he’s a thumping hitter. At his size (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and speed, you stay hit when Reaves applies a bodycheck. He finished 10th in the NHL last season with 239 hits. That will especially come in handy if Chris Kunitz, the Penguins' leader in that category with 216, leaves via free agency.
Reaves has played 225 games over the last three seasons, an average of 75. He played 80 games in 2016-17. He’s not some goon who jumps in and out of the lineup depending on the foe’s toughness. Reaves skates a regular shift.
Reaves scored seven goals last year. On the Penguins, he’ll net more. Working with assistant coach Rick Tocchet will help.
In terms of production, it doesn’t matter who the fourth-line wings are. Reaves fills a need beyond stats. His 9-10 minutes of ice will be significant.
Carl Hagelin scored six goals this past season. That’s one less goal than Reaves at over three times the salary cap hit.
Reaves’ skill set won’t enable him to play more than the occasional shift with Crosby or Malkin. How many enforcers could?
But Reaves’ acquisition says something to the Penguins’ stars. It’s a commitment to their protection, or the attempt thereof. Kris Letang went on Twitter after the trade to gleefully welcome Reaves to the Penguins.
The price paid for Reaves wasn’t cheap, but wasn’t inordinately dear.
The Penguins’ organization soured on Oskar Sundqvist over the past year, and did not see him in the fourth line center’s role this coming season. Rutherford fell 20 spots in the draft to make the deal, swapping the last pick in the first round for the 20th pick in the second round.
That’s a relatively inconsequential drop. If Rutherford trades the first pick of the second round instead, far fewer blink.
The Penguins are two-time defending Stanley Cup champion. Filling current needs must be a priority. Not long-term development.
If Reaves’ presence lessens the chance of injury to Crosby and Malkin by even 10 percent, his acquisition is well worth it. If Reaves’ presence makes foes ponder for even a split-second before acting out on Crosby or Malkin, his acquisition is well worth it.
Rutherford couldn’t allow his stars to be assaulted forever. It’s gone on far too long and happened far too often. You have to try to deter.
Reaves is not pure of heart. That’s not his job.
At some point Reaves will injure a foe. Hit an opponent from behind, or deliver a blow that targets the head.
Too bad. Tough luck. Pick your own insincere apology.
Haters lambasted the Penguins’ “hypocrisy” upon the acquisition of Reaves.
But the Penguins tried it the noble way. Now it’s time to try it the NHL’s way.
When a body lies crumpled courtesy of Reaves, the NHL Department of Player Safety shouldn’t just look at the video. It should look in the mirror.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).