The newest issue of The Hockey News should be arriving at your doorstep or your local magazine rack any day now. I won’t give too much away, but the theme is “Best of the Best” and we didn’t limit the categories to just scoring and skating. Naturally, I had a fighting component in the cover story and Vegas Golden Knights enforcer Ryan Reaves was the winner.
I bring this up because Thursday night, Reaves got into his first tilt of the 2019-20 season. The unlucky dance partner was Ottawa Senators journeyman/nice story Scott Sabourin, but this shift didn’t come with a happy ending.
The fight began with Sabourin nervously looking for a hold while Reaves calmly waited for engagement. After a brief volley of shots from both players, Reaves destroyed Sabourin with a thunderous right and he did it with a smile on his face. It’s good to be the king.
Because that’s where we’re at right now: In an era where fighting has been relegated to the margins of the sport (whether that’s a positive or a negative I will leave up to you), the heavyweight belt doesn’t get thought about the way it used to. Having said that, Reaves is a big reason we still talk about fighting at all and it’s not because he’s a volume dealer.
In fact, the Vegas winger dropped the gloves just three times last season, then once in the playoffs. That post-season tilt was with San Jose Sharks power forward Evander Kane and the two have engaged in a war of words ever since. Kane’s suspension at the beginning of this year deprived us all of the possibility of a rematch, but the two Pacific Division squads do meet again on Nov. 21 at the Shark Tank, which will be must-see TV for sure. The Golden Knights and Sharks have plenty of other reasons to hate each other, but Reaves vs. Kane is such a great subplot.
We also haven’t seen Reaves drop the gloves with Washington’s Tom Wilson in a few years and I have to imagine that won’t last forever. True, Wilson’s top-six role with the Capitals means he’ll be chasing his second 20-goal campaign in the NHL and is a much more valuable offensive threat than Reaves is, but Reaves also knocked Wilson out with a blindside hit last year and would anyone fault Wilson if he sought revenge when the Caps and Knights tangle on Nov. 9? Perhaps even more intriguing, is what will Reaves do? We know he’s a gifted trash talker and never shy in front of the media - so how will he approach the game within the game against Wilson?
These are all little subplots that may not matter in the grand scheme of things and may never be written in hockey’s history books, but for a good number of fans, they matter. Bob Probert vs. Tie Domi was a big deal back in the day. Finding someone to stand up to the Bruins or Flyers in the 1970s (Larry Robinson, for example) was a big deal.
And yes, the game has changed almost completely since those days and truthfully, the high-paced action we see nowadays is hard to beat. But when a player like Reaves comes along and injects a nice dose of mischief into the NHL, it’s fun. Maybe not fun for the likes of Sabourin, Kane or Wilson, but you get the idea.
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