Quick Shifts: Ryan Reaves has ‘no reason to say no’ to Matt Rempe

NHL analyst Colby Armstrong joins the Jeff Marek Show to discuss Rangers rookie Matt Rempe taking the league by storm with his fists mostly, coming in making his presence felt, making a name for himself, and having the best time doing it.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Six days till deadline: Anyone else got Henrique fever?

1. Ryan Reaves saw flashes of his younger self last week when he, like the rest of us, got drawn into that epic Nicolas Deslauriers–Matt Rempe fight.

“Nice old-school scrap there,” says Toronto Maple Leafs forward Reaves, who’s about as old-school and scrappy as you’ll find in an NHL stall these days. “There’s not as many like that. So when you see ’em, you gotta talk about ’em.”

A few days before facing his old team (the New York Rangers) and some new blood (that six-foot-seven mountain of knuckles and black eyes they call the Rempire State Building), Reaves is happy to talk Rempe.

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This fearless kid out of Calgary who already has more minutes in the box (32:00) than on the ice (27:43). The rare callup who will call you out.

“I mean, he’s obviously a kid trying to make a name for himself,” Reaves tells me. “I was in that position when I was younger, too, just coming in and trying to fight everything that moved.

“And he’s obviously doing a good job if we’re talking about him.”

Reaves, now 37, recounts when he got his break, back in 2011, when he’d put on gloves and itch to throw them off. His dance card was never as full as it was in 2010-11, the season he went Rempe before Rempe, racking up 20 scraps and making the jump from the farm in Peoria to the show in St. Louis.

“It was a little bit of everything,” he says. “There was excitement, being in front of 18,000 fans for the first time and then fighting heavyweights, trying to become ‘That Guy’ in the league. But there was also a bit of nerves because I didn’t come into the league as a guy like that. You know, I was still learning to fight in the minors. And then when I got noticed, I was kinda thrown into dealing with some pretty big boys.”

Reaves’ nerves persisted until he squared up with Brian McGrattan in February 2012. It’s still his highest-rated bout on HockeyFights.com:

In those days, there was always a guy on the other bench agreeable. 

“That game, if I remember correctly, we were down [2-0]. And we just had no life. We were on the ice together, and I asked him to go — and he was very willing,” Reaves recalls.

McGrattan didn’t have to accept Reaves’ request, just as the respected Matt Martin didn’t have to prove himself against a 21-year-old sixth-rounder last week.

“It can go either way. I remember when I was younger, sometimes when I asked the older guys, they’d say: ‘No, you gotta earn it first.’ But at the same time, how do you earn it without fighting a bigger guy?” Reaves says. 

“Jamal Mayers was the first one. I tried to ask him in San Jose, and he told me: ‘They want to see your skill first. You’ve gotta earn that.’ I think I fought somebody else that game.”

Reaves earned his stripes against younger pugilists. He built a name for himself and, like Rempe, use monster bodychecks as an invitation.

“When you go bury somebody, it’s kinda hard to look the other way. So, that’s how I noticed. I was burying guys and making guys come after me,” Reaves says.

What’s old is new again. 

Arizona’s Liam O’Brien came after Reaves Thursday after the veteran laid out one of O’Brien’s teammates. The centre-ice bout began with full-cocked swings and ended with Reaves tapping his biceps as he flexed to the home crowd.

“That was a big turning point, honestly,” Leafs teammate Auston Matthews says. “He’s been playing some of the best hockey that I’ve seen from him since he’s been here the last couple of weeks, and I think he’s really found his groove. It’s been a while [four months] since he’s dropped the gloves, so I know he’s been itching to get into one.”

So, Mr. Reaves: Do you expect Rempe to make a request Saturday night?

“Oh, I’m sure. But you never know what happens,” Reaves replies. 

“I’m not just gonna square up with him at centre ice. But if something happens, whether I run somebody or he runs somebody, I got no reason to decline or not go after him. Or if he comes after me, I got no reason to say no. So …”

2. Though his Leafs fate was in doubt in January, when a string of unhealthy scratches bled into a string of healthy ones, Reaves leapt over Noah Gregor on the depth chart in February. He appeared in 10 games, more than in any other month he’s been on the roster.

He’s potting some goals, the oft-maligned fourth line is tilting the ice, and — best of all — Reaves can be heard busting out his uncanny imitation of a loud goal siren when he scores in practice.

“When I’m not in regularly, I feel like I’m not really myself,” Reaves says. “You know, it’s hard to be the locker room guy, the loud guy talking in the dressing room. But it’s been a little easier for me lately. And staying in the lineup has helped my confidence for sure. 

“Even little things. Like in practice, just trying things I know I’m probably not going to do in games. But I think before I just so tried not to make a mistake, I was too tight and just feeling tight everywhere. I feel a little looser, having a little more fun, and my game has come along. I feel like my game is in a good spot — playing physical, playing responsible in the D-zone. Our line’s been getting chances, and it’s been really good in the offensive zone the last couple games especially. I’m in a good headspace right now and hope to carry that on.”

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Reaves believes Morgan Rielly’s willingness to “eat a five-gamer for the crest” sparked the group. He also notes that the players have had discussions about ramping toward playoff-like intensity, knowing from experience that the Leafs can’t simply flick that on like a light switch. 

“Enough guys realize that with what we want to do and what we can accomplish, it’s not time to mess around. It’s time to really start establishing our game, no matter who we’re playing,” Reaves says, adding that bonding off the ice during last week’s Midwest swing helped.

“You really need to be a tight-knit group, and you need to be willing to go to war with each other,” Reaves says. “That road trip came at a very opportune time.”

A bunch of Leafs hung out at Matthews’ place. Some went golfing. And Reaves and a few others visited an escape room.

“We got out with two minutes left,” Reaves says, smiling.

3. Simon Benoit, the Leafs’ other frequent fighter, also took notice of Rempe’s rampage. In part because he has played with both Deslauriers (in Anaheim) and Olivier (in Shawinigan), and has seen those tough customers up close.

“I think he enjoyed his first couple games a little bit too much,” Benoit tells me. 

“Like, back-to-back nights fighting? It’s not easy. If he enjoys it, good for him, but it’s a tough, tough game to play. When you have to fight every game, sometimes you find your match. You know what I mean? I saw on his videos, he seems to enjoy it. So, good on him. It’s not easy to make your spot sometimes. He’s trying to find himself a little niche. And it works for him.”

Benoit points to his own experience dropping the gloves with Erik Gudbranson on Dec. 29, then scrapping L.A.’s Andreas Englund four nights later.

“It’s not something I enjoy, obviously. If I have to, I’ll do it. Sometimes after a fight, you don’t really sleep at night,” Benoit explains.

“Your body just goes into survival mode, I guess. Adrenalin kicks in. And I know a couple of guys say the same thing: When they fight, they can’t fall asleep until like 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. Then, you wake up the next day and feel like s—.”

That’s after an average fight. Rempe’s showdowns “were tilt tilts,” Benoit emphasizes.

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“D-Lo is not really tall, but he has a long (expletive) reach. He hits hard. And sometimes he protects himself a little bit less to be able throw those haymakers. Rempe’s tall too: six-foot-seven. It’s kind of impressive, especially bare knuckles. No gloves, right?

“If he wants to do it, that’s fine. You fight, there’s risk. You get hurt. You don’t want to be the guy who gets in a fight and stays down on the ice. Fighting is part of hockey, but nobody wants to kill a guy, right? He knows — everybody knows — it’s part of the game.”

Benoit remembers when he first experienced that at the NHL level. He hip-checked John Carlson late and low in the neutral zone, and Tom Wilson came at him. 

“I didn’t do great. Didn’t do that bad,” Benoit says. “If I want to play that physical game, I have to be ready to fight once in a while. Just react. You don’t think much. Think too much, you’re dead. You react in the moment and do the best you can with what you got. I have a long reach. I throw a few and try to protect myself. That’s it.”

Benoit’s philosophy is simple: An NHLer can’t play a hardnosed game if he’s not prepared to answer the bell on occasion. Now on his third tour, he understands exactly whom on the opposing roster will be willing to go, and which fist he’ll unleash. 

“Who’s a lefty? Now I know,” Benoit says. “Because if you fight a lefty and don’t know he’s a lefty, it’s an open fight. That’s no bueno.”

4. Nearly three months between NHL starts means plenty of downtime for a rehabilitating goaltender.

“Yeah, had a bit of time,” Joseph Woll says, smiling.

When he wasn’t pushing his ankle’s health and staying in shape, the Leafs netminder spent time catching up with friends, but also found solace in playing piano and reading books.

“I’m reading David Goggins’ book right now. I’m almost done with it. It’s a pretty intense book. I enjoyed it a lot. His mind is … there’s like a spectrum, almost. Like, people that are comfortable and very balanced and have a happy lifestyle, and this dude is on the other side,” Woll explains of the world-class endurance athlete. 

“He’s all about performance, all about getting the most out of your life. And I think it’s pretty awesome. There’s a lot of good stopping points within the book and a lot of challenges. It lines up with what I’ve been able to reflect on and bring into my career and into my life.”

On the keys, Woll figures he’s got the Interstellar theme he busted out at the team’s Blue and White gala down pat.

His next challenge: Ludovico Einaudi’s “I Giorni.”

“That’s a pretty good song,” he says. “May look to learn that next.”

5. Among all impending UFAs, Sam Reinhart leads in goals (41).

Second is Conn Smythe champ and $5-million cap hit Jonathan Marchessault (32), and the 33-year-old makes it clear that the value of his next contract is motivating his performance. So, too, is the chance to repeat.

“I want to give a good future for my kids, right? That’s what drives me, familywise,” says the father of four.

“But once you taste winning, it’s more than a drug. We were on such a high of emotion last year, it’s the best feeling. You just want to keep going towards it. That’s what drives me. Also, my Cup day, I had so much things going on. I want to win again, put it in my living room and do (expletive)-all all day.”

Marchessault’s coach appreciates how he’s dealt with the pressure of an uncertain future and delivered in key moments, especially with the injury blows to Jack Eichel and Mark Stone.

“Well, he’s had a career in goals. So, to me,” Knights coach Bruce Cassidy says, “he’s handled it great.

“High-energy guy. If you were watching pre-game skate this morning, he’s the guy that brings a lot of juice to us in terms of his competitiveness in practice and getting the guys going.”

Cassidy’s policy is to not discuss the contract pressures with players unless they bring it up. The business side of the sport should remain between the player, his reps, and management.

That said, if Cassidy notices a player struggling or not acting like himself, the coach will pull him aside: Hey, anything going on that we need to know about?

“Because sometimes you’ll find out that maybe his father’s sick or something. You don’t know these things,” Cassidy says. “The business side of it, I think, is one that you’re better off just leaving alone.”

6. If the Nashville Predators rally to make the post-season, they may wish to break off a chunk of that Bridgestone Arena playoff gate and donate to whatever charitable cause Bono is pushing these dates. 

Since the club cancelled the Preds’ planned trip to catch U2 at the Sphere in Las Vegas, the wrist-slapped players have responded with an incredible seven-game win streak, outscoring opponents 32-12 over that run.

GM Barry Trotz, we assumed you’d be a sure seller. Now, the frenzy of trade deadline will go on with or without you.

7. From good streak to bad streak.

Until Friday’s triumph over Ottawa, Arizona had not won a hockey game since the Utah-based Smith Entertainment Group formally requested an NHL expansion team.

Even with a bonus game on Leap Day, the Coyotes went 0-for-February and got mired in a 0-12-2 slump.

Andre Tourigny won’t let results get in the way of an upbeat mood, however. 

“We’re in the best league in the world,” Arizona’s head coach said. “We do the best job in the world. We’re privileged. There’s millions and millions, if not billions, of people who want to be in our spot. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face when you show up at the rink, you’re in the wrong business. 

“I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. I’m one of the 32. That’s how I approach every day. I cannot wait for the sun to come up so I can go to work. That’s the way I am, and that’s the attitude I want to bring to our team. I never felt in that room that there’s anybody who feels sorry for themselves. They’re fighting. The attitude of our guys is unbelievable. I have a ton of respect for them, the way they fight and show up every day in a tough stretch.”

8. Quote of the Week.

“3 is kinda half of 8.” — Chris Tanev, who wore No. 8 in Calgary, explaining his choice of sweater number for the Dallas Stars.

9. After seeing Jonathan Drouin top out at seven goals in 2019-20, two in 2020-21, six in 2021-22 and two in 2022-23, we’d be tempted to write off the 2013 third-overall pick as a legitimate offensive contributor.

Well, after signing with Colorado and reuniting with ol’ Mooseheads pal Nathan MacKinnon, Drouin is enjoying his best season in five years: 10 goals, 34 points, to go with improved defensive play. 

Take a bow, GM Chris MacFarland. Not bad for a $825,000 flyer.

The 27-year-old’s rebound has been critical in a season where the Avalanche have had to ride out the prolonged absences of wingers Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin and, of course, Gabriel Landeskog. 

“If we’re looking at our forward roster, we’ve had a bunch of guys in and out. That seems to be the area where we’ve had the most fluidity to our lineup,” coach Jared Bednar says. “This is another guy that can play with guys like Nate and Mikko [Rantanen], and help produce offence on his own or with them, power play, etc. So, [Drouin’s effectiveness] allows us the flexibility to move guys around and try to bolster other lines.

“It helps make us a deeper team with another guy that could play in your top six. I think it’s a real good add for us.”

10. Vegas was stuck in a rough patch when Cassidy stopped by the Hockey Hall of Fame on Sunday during a free afternoon in Toronto. 

“We had lost four in a row at home,” the bench boss says. “We just lost to the Senators. You think, ‘Boy, I can’t coach a lick.’ And you go in there and you see your team’s ring and a little stall with the Knights Cup stuff, so it gives you a little confidence boost.”

Cassidy and the Knights also toured the Hall of Fame archives in Etobicoke after practising at the Leafs’ facility. The ex-Bruin was drawn to a specific item. 

“Bobby Orr’s stick,” Cassidy says, with enthusiasm. “I grabbed the one that he scored his 200th goal with. You take a look at it and how heavy those things were back then. … I loved it. I was like a kid in a candy store.”

While there is zero trace of panic in the defending champs’ room, the hottest team in autumn has slipped to 11th in points percentage.

Cassidy considers the ol’ Stanley Cup hangover.

“We didn’t have it in October. It hit us in January and February. Maybe that’s the learning curve we’re going through is the hangover comes later, in the dog days,” says Cassidy.

The Knights finally got Shea Theodore and goalie Adin Hill back to dress a healthy back end, only to see star forwards Mark Stone (spleen) and Jack Eichel (knee) leave with significant injuries.

“The good thing about having guys out is your urgency should be there for the rest of the group,” Cassidy reasons. “Listen, we got to get in. We’re not automatic. And you never are in this league. If you have a bad couple of weeks, anything can happen.” 

Marchessault has no interest in sympathy: “I’m not a guy who likes to find excuses.” 

The veteran sounds matter-of-fact when explaining that injuries have been a factor in the slip. The Knights are also sensing that they’re getting the opposition’s best effort on a nightly basis now that they’ve become the measuring stick for team success.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

11. Of all Canadian goaltenders, none has a better save percentage than Adin Hill (.923), Stanley Cup champion.

Despite laying claim to the two most recent Cup-winning goalies, Canada’s greatest roster question heading into the 2026 Winter Games (and the 2025 NHL 4 Nations Face-Off, for that matter) remains: Who minds the crease?

“I can’t focus on it too much, right? I’m just focused on one game at a time here and rolling,” Hill says. 

“But that would be a dream come true to play for Team Canada in the Olympics. Sadly, the last couple of Olympics, guys haven’t had the opportunity to do that. So, I’d be honoured to represent Team Canada.”

12. Connor McDavid is out here flexing some deadpan humour during a 10-game goal drought. And we’re here for it:

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