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The Ryan Reaves signing continues to prove a comedy of errors

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
When the Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off free agency with the signing of Ryan Reaves on July 1, I did my best to justify it. I even wrote an article talking about how the value behind the signing probably stemmed beyond what the common fan could see on a CapFriendly page. 
It’s been a little over six months since the signing, and it’s safe to say that the Reaves contract has already aged as poorly as one could have forecasted. He’s been sidelined since December 14 with a knee injury, has only one goal in 21 games, and essentially single-handedly dragged down the fourth line’s ability to maintain production without the puck. Anyone could have told you that signing a veteran enforcer to a three-year contract wouldn’t have aged well, but there was still the possibility that the positives from his overall impact on the dressing room would make up for the negatives. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.
The 36-year-old enamoured himself to fans over the summer, dropping quips about how his job was simply to beat people up, and talking about how it would have been fun if he was there when Radko Gudas screamed in Joseph Woll’s face after eliminating the Leafs. If the past few years and the subsequent love affairs between fans and players like Luke Schenn and Simon Benoit have proven anything, it’s that Leafs fans will quickly forgive your flaws if you play a blue-collar game and give an honest effort every night.
Reaves started on the right foot with the Leafs, dropping the gloves in each of his first two games against a pair of tough customers in Arber Xhekaj and Marcus Foligno. Since then, there’s been nothing but radio silence. His presence in the dressing room was supposed to help the Leafs in moments such as the one on November 2, when Brad Marchand took Timothy Liljegren out on the forecheck and knocked him out of the game with a high ankle sprain. Instead, he chirped from the bench, and the subject of conversation on sports radio the next day was the all-too-familiar question “why doesn’t this team stick up for themselves?”.
You’ve probably already read a million articles about this very topic and how the contract hasn’t aged well, but there’s been a new development that further puts the signing into question. 
As mentioned above, Reaves twisted his knee in a December 14 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and immediately left the game. He’s been sidelined with that injury since then, but despite remaining on the injured reserve (IR), he says he’s good to go. In a recent interview with Sportsnet, he talked about how he understands the nature of the business despite his hatred of the situation. 
“I’ve been good to go for a few weeks now” Reaves said regarding the recent string of scratches. “I mean, it’s not fun. Nobody likes watching hockey when your team is going out to battle. I definitely hate it. But there’s nothing really more I can do. I don’t know exactly what the situation is or what’s going to happen, I guess just stay patient and find out.” 
Reaves also went on to talk about the nature of his injury, and how his knee issues aren’t exactly a one-off. 
“I have very loose knees. I’ve torn both of them a ton of times, and I don’t feel comfortable on the ice without them anymore” he said, referring to his knee braces. “I’ve tried taking them off, and my knees are so loose that when I cut to get out of bed the next morning, sometimes they pop out. So I keep ‘em on.”
Here’s where the comedy of errors mentioned in the title really starts to take shape. First things first, if the Leafs don’t feel like Reaves is healthy enough to play, they can leave him on the IR. So, there’s technically no wrongdoing there. But that begs the question – if this knee issue was known about, and it’s something that’s been plaguing him beyond his tenure with the Leafs, where was the logic behind signing him to a three-year contract? 
The Leafs weren’t in desperate need of a forward. In fact, they had a younger, cheaper, and more effective Sam Lafferty on the roster at the time of the signing. They ended up having to deal Lafferty to the Vancouver Canucks to fit under the cap – he has ten goals and 20 points in 47 games so far this year. You can make the argument that the Leafs needed a character forward like Reaves, both for on-ice and off-ice purposes, but there was absolutely no reason they had to commit $1.3 million annually to him over three years. 
Like I said, I tried to rationalize the deal at the time, but it became apparent maybe five games into his tenure that he wasn’t going to live up to the contract. Now, the Leafs are stuck in a potentially ugly situation involving Reaves and his apparent belief that he’s ready to go. Factor in that Pontus Holmberg has seemingly played himself into a full-time spot, and Nick Robertson has etched himself into that conversation as well, I don’t see a path back to the Leafs for Reaves. And he still has two years left on his contract. 
The one positive here is that with the way the Leafs mapped out his contract, it can be buried relatively easily without much of a cap penalty. Should they try to waive him or bury his deal, it wouldn’t hurt the cap beyond a little vending machine change due to how the bonuses on his contract are structured. Still, the entire situation could have been avoided by not signing him. 
The state of the Leafs lineup is still in somewhat of a limbo, with no real fourth line established and the bottom six in general still without an identity, but it’s hard to foresee a situation where head coach Sheldon Keefe forces Reaves back into the lineup simply to live up to Brad Treliving’s wishes.  
We’ll have to see how the Leafs work their way out of this, whether that’s through a trade or some sort of mutual agreement between the two parties. I don’t envy Treliving and Brandon Pridham for having to figure it out, but then again, the former was the one who signed him. One positive to take away from Kyle Dubas’ tenure as Leafs GM was that he generally undid his mistakes instead of doubling down on them. We’ll see if Treliving takes that same approach.

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