How Ryan Reaves is keeping Stars 'off-balance' with intimidating play

EDMONTON — Ryan Reaves is a bully.

What are you going to do about it?

“Just try to ignore him, I guess,” said Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn.

Sure. Like that meme of the dog in the coffee shop that’s burning to the ground, saying “This is fine.”

Full disclosure: The Dallas Stars have no answer to Ryan Reaves, the biggest, toughest, loudest player on the ice whenever these two teams play. He hits whoever he wants, big or small, and he chirps whoever he wants, instructing Corey Perry late in Game 2, “Dive, Corey! Dive!”

He had words for Anton Khudobin as the Stars goalie passed by the Vegas bench at the end of the second period, and when Benn took a rather needless elbowing penalty you could hear Reaves from his perch on the Golden Knights bench: “Way to go, Jamieeee!”

And other than a hard, late hit from John Klingberg early in the game, guess what the Stars did about Reaves and his two emboldened linemates, who laid a total of 21 hits on the Stars in Game 2?

Nothing, that’s what.

“To say guys aren’t afraid of him would be silly. They are,” said former St. Louis Blue Kelly Chase, one of those dinosaurs who roamed the ice back in the day when every team had one or two players who could, and would, punch your lights out if they saw fit. “And they should be (afraid of Reaves), ‘cause he hits hard, he hits clean, and he’s trying to put people off-balance enough so he can make a difference in the game.”

So let’s chew on that for a moment.


What, exactly does “off-balance mean,” when the player plying that trade is six-foot-two, 225 lbs., and in a game that still allows fighting is undoubtedly the toughest player on either team?

We asked Vegas coach Peter DeBoer if, in a sport that has moved on from the traditional heavyweight who skates poorly and plays even worse, is there still value in having the biggest, baddest player in the game?

“Is there still?” DeBoer asked as if he wasn’t hearing us right. “Invaluable, (is the word) I would use. Just, absolutely big value in what he brings in the room, and the amount of space… The flies, so to speak, that he keeps off of the other guys on our team.

“It’s invaluable, and you can’t just measure it by the hits total at the end of the night.”

According to, Reaves only had three fights this past season, against Ottawa’s Scott Sabourin, Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry and the New York Islanders Ross Johnston. The year before that, one: against a very brave Evander Kane.

It tells us two things: fighting is slowly disappearing from the game; and, those who still chuck knuckles want little to do with Reaves.

“He just so happens to be the toughest man in the league,” said teammate Max Pacioretty. “It gives you confidence as another player on the team. ‘You want to run me? Why don’t you do so when (number) 75 is on the ice?’ They might think a little differently next time they’re going to try and line someone up, or say something to someone.”

Stars general manager Jim Nill spoke Wednesday about how a GM almost needs to build two teams. One to get you into the playoffs, and a bigger, heavier version to deal with the way the game changes in the post-season. A team that can beat the St. Louis’, Washingtons and Bostons.

Of course, the reason that Reaves still plays a prominent role on a Cup contender while the traditional heavyweight has become extinct is because he can skate and he can play.

“He’s a really good athlete, so he gets around the ice well enough to put himself in the position to bully guys. That’s the intimidation part that (has been eliminated) from the game,” said Chase, who has worked in his post-hockey career for the Blues, who drafted Reaves in 2005. “One thing the kid always had was, he had enough belief in himself that he was going to figure out how he’s going to play longer.

“I love what he’s done. He’s got a lot to be proud of,” Chase continued. “I’d have him or (Washington’s) Tom Wilson on my team any time. They’re the two guys who are playing the way Tocc (Rick Tocchet), Cam Neely, and Wendel (Clark) and those guys played. Ryan is the last of the guys who do it.”

Outside the game, Reaves’ is a role that has been diminished by analysts. As fighting has rightfully declined, some have made the mistake of assuming that physical intimidation has disappeared as well.

The mistake is believing that having the biggest, toughest player who can do or say whatever he wants all night long without repercussion isn’t worth anything anymore. Just ask the coaches and players.

“(He) makes everyone able to play a bit bigger when they go out there,” explained Pacioretty. “That being said, Ryan Reaves is a good hockey player who helps us in all categories when he’s on the ice. On the forecheck, protecting pucks, he’s obviously very hard to knock off the puck … and when he has the opportunity to run someone or get some energy for our group he is able to do that as well.”

Said Chase: “The only guy on Dallas who is who equipped to handle him is Jamie Benn. And you don’t want him doing it. He’s their best player, so you kinda want to monitor that a little bit too.

“There’s no advantage to going out there and losing (a fight)."

So the Stars, “just try to ignore him.”

Let’s see how that works for them.

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