In the last few days, Penguins fans have been debating, whilst celebrating the second of back-to-back Stanley Cups might I add, the merits of trading the 31st overall pick and Oskar Sundqvist for a second round pick and “enforcer” Ryan Reaves.
It’s had it all – the debate on whether a guy like Reaves has a place in hockey to the turning up of noses and everything inbetween.
The reality I see few discussing is that this isn’t a failure of Penguins management. How could it be? They’ve won two consecutive Stanley Cups. (I know, I know, winning two Stanley Cups does not give them an automatic pass to do whatever they want, but can we at least admit that it gives them a pretty wide berth? It’s worked out quite nicely thus far.)
It’s a failure of the NHL at large.
The role of enforcer is pretty much dead. There’s no debating this. If you are debating it, you’re clinging to a time gone by and you can’t accept the reality that is today’s NHL. Fighting doesn’t happen much, if at all anymore.
You can call that whatever you want, evolution, softening, dumb, whatever, but the fact of the matter is: designated punchers are just about done having jobs in the NHL.
Here’s where the failing is: The NHL has decided to revert to a time when their star players are supposed to “fight through it.” Getting hooked on your way to the net? Unless it keeps them from a clean breakaway – no harm, no foul. He’s elite! He should be able to get through it!
Superstar B gets assaulted along the boards or behind the play? Hey, that’s just the price of doing business when you’re elite.
This is where players like Reaves are born. They’re not going to go out, drop the gloves with the other designated punchers and call it a night.
They’re going to retaliate. They’re going to toe a line and cross it.
See Matt Cooke. See Brandon Dubinsky. See Bobby Farnham and so many others.
The NHL refuses to punish these people sufficiently for the crimes they commit and thus begins the cycle.
Sure, at the end of the day, Reaves and a second for Sundqvist and a first is on the surface a “fourth liner and a pick for a fourth liner and a pick” trade, but what it exposes is a culture that’s broken.
The message in the NHL is clear: headshots, cheap shots and assault are okay. So long as you don’t permanently injury someone or commit a Darren McCarty-esque offense, it’s just a couple weeks pay and a few games eating press box nachos for you.
Yes, the Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups, but they won them despite the NHL.
The same could be said for Chicago. These teams take a beating night in and night out and they’re disciplined enough to keep their cool.
Eventually, turning the other cheek doesn’t work. Eventually, you can only have so much skin taken before it’s time to punch back.
Rutherford, knowing this team will be even more targeted, has decided to punch back.