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  • Could Ryan Reaves Be the Wild’s "Designated Hitter"?

    Tom Schreier

    The late, great Rodney Dangerfield made a living delivering one-liners, beginning in the late ‘60s. Dangerfield, best known for playing Al Czervik in Caddyshack, once said that parents in his neighborhood sent their kids out looking like him on Halloween. He offered that he knew he was drinking too much when his urine sample had an olive in it. But my favorite line of his best describes the Minnesota Wild’s 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers last week.


    “I went to a fight the other night,” Dangerfield exclaimed, “and a hockey game broke out.”


    There were three fights in the first ten minutes of the game, all within 16 seconds of each other. First, Ryan Reaves

    against Nicolas Deslauriers, his Wild doppelganger from last year. Then, Mason Shaw traded blows with Wade Allison. Sixty seconds later, Marcus Foligno dropped the gloves and fought Zack MacEwen. Finally, Brandon Duhaime and Patrick Brown topped it off with a donnybrook early in the second period.


    Dangerfield didn’t witness the game; he died in 2004 at age 82. But he perfectly described it. The Wild entered the Flyers game on a three-game losing streak and decided to break themselves out of the slump by taking a swing at the Broad Street Bullies. It was old-school hockey, the kind of stuff that some fans live for, and others loathe. Philadelphia is outside the playoff picture, trying to fight its way in. Minnesota is on the bubble. The animosity between each team came less from proximity and more from general orneriness.


    It was a game tailor-made for Reaves.


    “We lost three in a row,” Reaves said after the game. “They were outshooting us and in our zone a lot. Just a sleepy start. I think it was time to build some energy. That’s my job.”


    Reaves is this year’s Rorschach test that divides the old-school and analytical parts of the fanbase. Some see the Meg emerging from Pig’s Eye Lake when he comes out of the tunnel, a 6’2” embodiment of physicality. Reaves hits like a linebacker and fires up the team with his locker room speeches. However, he doesn’t offer much as a player from an analytics perspective, and Dean Evason should not deploy him in the playoffs.


    Despite satisfying the bloodlust of fans in attendance, Reaves isn’t always a fit for the Wild lineup on any given night. Few teams are the Flyers, who pay homage to their past by employing pugilistic players. John Tortorella won’t be behind the opposing bench every night. Minnesota will need to deploy more skilled players down the stretch and if they make the playoffs. Rostering an enforcer won’t always help their cause.


    The ultimate question is whether Reaves can be effective in the locker room if he’s regularly watching games from the press box. The hits he lands and the punches he throws can turn the momentum of the game. But he can’t get his team going if he’s unable to catch up with quicker, skilled players and nobody is willing to engage him in a fight.


    Still, he’s a gifted orator off the ice. Like Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday, he’ll get his teammates to

    – er, that space on the ice. Much of the Wild faithful is familiar with the video of Reaves reading the lineup card. He takes the simple task of reading Evason’s lines and pairings to another stratosphere, firing up his teammates in the locker room in much the same way his fights energize them on the ice.


    Could Reaves become Minnesota’s “designated hitter?” Could they deploy him solely in “Rodney Dangerfield games?” When the Wild anticipate engaging in a fight where a hockey game will break out, a la the Flyers game last week, they’ll send in the Meg. But when they’re playing a standard hockey game, have him sit next to Michael Russo.


    The issue here is that Reaves may feel he cannot motivate the team in the same way if he’s watching from the rafters. It’s one thing to get everyone bouncing off the locker room walls and then crunch opponents on the ice. It’s another to give a speech and then get on an elevator and watch the game in the same space as the GM. Suddenly, he’s acting more like a coach or executive than a player.


    Regardless, it’s an issue the Wild will need to solve. Reaves isn’t a fit in every game, but he always brings something to the locker room. He’s a veteran who knows that tomorrow is promised to no one. Minnesota suffered salary cap casualties in the offseason, and they’re not as skilled as last year. But they will likely make the playoffs, and every team that qualifies has a chance. That’s especially true if they find a way to maximize Reaves’ skill set, even when he’s not on the ice.

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