The acquisition of Ryan Reaves by the Pittsburgh Penguins was one that was met with polarizing responses, with fans equally split onto whether it was a good move or not. Now that we’re 10 games into the season, and we have a bit of a sample size (albeit, not much) to work with, it’s good to analyze the acquisition.
The price to acquire Ryan Reaves was Oskar Sundqvist and the 31st overall pick, with the 51st overall pick going back. Ignoring the two players involved for now, the price for moving up in the draft is difficult to pin down. However, in the 2015 draft, the closest we can find to an equitable trade was the 29th pick going to Columbus in exchange for the 34th pick and the 68th pick. So, a late first went for an early second and an early third. To trade for the 31st pick, it is fair to assume that a team would have to add another late 2nd to the 51st pick to make a package that would be fair value.
The trade of Sundqvist for Reaves straight up would be close to fair value. Going into the year, Sundqvist was a prospect with limited NHL experience, whereas Reaves was a career 4th liner who had no further room to grow. As trades go, one for the other straight up would be a fair value move for both teams. The best example of this trade was from January 2016 when Ryan Garbutt (playing the Reaves role in this trade) was traded for Jiri Sekac (playing the role of Sundqvist).
So from a price perspective, the Penguins left a 2nd round pick on the table when it came to the value of this trade. We’re not off to a great start here.
Before we begin here, we need to discuss the concept of deterrence and how it works. Thankfully for you, faithful reader, I just graduated from university with a Bachelors in Law and wrote a dissertation on deterrence as part of my graduation. I’ll try not to get too bogged down in academic nonsense in this explanation.
The idea of deterrence works mostly around the concept of ‘rational choice theory’, in which it is assumed human beings are inherently rational and control their own behaviours. In such, they will only act in deviant ways if it stands to benefit their self-interests. There are, however, influences on the rationality of the person in question, such as the socio-economic benefit of the deviancy.
If we apply this to a hockey sense, a player (let’s use Matthias Ekholm as our example player, because it will become relevant later) would only be deterred by a physical presence in the opposition lineup if the socio-economic benefit of doing so did not outweigh the risk of retribution. To put it in our example, Ekholm would have to consider the risk of Reaves physically harming him against his socio-economic benefit of fulfilling his job as an NHL player and shutting down a Penguins player with physicality.
The NHL minimum salary is $650k dollars. The rational choice would be, for many, to earn your $650k and maybe get punched in the face by Reaves once or twice.
This is where the issue with the fit in a cultural sense is a failing. No player is going to be deterred by the risk of Ryan Reaves punching them as he doesn’t play that much, and his 3 fights so far this year have been in self-serving situations. His fight against Austin Watson was a result of Watson hitting him, his fight against Cody McLeod was a result of McLeod interfering with him then challenging him and his fight against Darnell Nurse came about because of Reaves hitting an Oiler. To reference Ekholm again, as per Josh Yohe’s report after the Nashville game in early October, Crosby was challenged to a fight by Ekholm. With the main idea that Reaves’ acquisition was to protect Crosby from physical encounters like the above, it is very difficult to argue that he can succeed in his supposed goal.
So, as we’ve discussed, the deterrence effect of Reaves would be negligible if it even exists. So, with that aside, Reaves was acquired because he supposedly was an everyday NHL player who could play hockey well while also being tough. Somewhat of an upgrade on a Tom Sestito type player.
While the statistics for Corsi do back up that Reaves is an upgrade on Sestito with regards to possession, their points/60 at even strength are remarkably similar (1.71 for Reaves, 1.69 for Sestito). They also have not too dissimilar TOI and shifts per game with Reaves getting an average of 6:46 a game on 11 shifts, and Sestito getting 5:31 a game on 9.7 shifts in 2016-2017.
There is also only 3 forwards who have played 5 games this season in the NHL who have less average time on the ice per game, that being Jared Boll, Luke Witowski and McLeod, who are hardly contemporary examples of tough guys who can also play hockey well.
This lack of ice time presents numerous issues for the Penguins. With Reaves’ even strength play being less than was hoped for, it affects the even strength playing time of the other members of the 4th line, with Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney losing at least a minute of even strength time per game. This provides additional stress on the top line players of the Penguins as those minutes must be absorbed elsewhere. Reaves’ supposed abilities on the PK have also not materialized, with no shifts being given to Reaves despite the Penguins desire to roll 6 guys (now downgraded to 5 after the scratching/trading of Scott Wilson) and even when PK guys are in the box, Crosby is a preferred PK option.
Please do not take this article as a ‘I hate Ryan Reaves’ piece. I do not. I am entertained by the antics and by all accounts, he is beloved by those in the room. But to ignore his impact on the hockey aspect of a team that won 2 cups in a row without the need for a player of his ilk in the lineup would be disingenuous.
I strongly believe that Ryan Reaves as an everyday player for the Penguins does harm their ability to play hockey, while also stunting the development of Josh Archibald and considering Scott Wilson to be a tradeable asset. There is little benefit to him seeing the ice every game over Archibald, when Archibald brings additional PK abilities that Reaves cannot.