Dallas Stars Rookie Valeri Nichushkin missed the license plate of the truck that plowed him over in front of the St. Louis Blues’ bench.
At 11:56 of the first period of the Blues’ Nov. 23, 2013 matchup with Dallas, bruiser Ryan Reaves sent Nichushkin, then an NHL veteran of just 20 games, into the St. Louis bench with a big, clean check. The play continued but Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon took exception to the hit. After a chat seemed to last an eternity for the 18,037 fans in attendance, the two willing combatants dropped the mitts. This was something to which Reaves was no stranger.
It was his seventh fight and 65th penalty minute handed out of the season. It was also one of countless times that Reaves had to defend himself after a clean hit in the neutral zone. This time, though, the Blues tough guy sustained a lost tooth and, more importantly, a broken right hand.
The injury kept Reaves out of the lineup until January, leaving a hole in the Blues’ fourth line. The toughness that Reaves provided the Blues knowingly went unmatched among his teammates. Shortly after his return, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native inked a four-year, $4.5 million contract extension.
For the remainder of the season, Reaves was assessed three fighting majors in the final 41 games of the 2013-14 season. He went on to record six penalty minutes in six games against the Blackhawks during the postseason.
Concerns surfaced throughout the 2014 calendar year that Reaves was not completely healthy. He confirmed that belief on Monday in a tweet sent out by St. Louis Post-Dispatch Blues beat writer Jeremy Rutherford:
Reaves said his surgically-repaired hand was never 100% last yr. He rested it this summer but started boxing recently & said it feels great.
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) September 15, 2014
Unrest over Reaves lacking heart after signing his contract extension can now be put to rest. With Reaves at 100 percent for the first time since last November, the fourth-line grit can ultimately return to the lineup.
BizNasty throws wrench into works
With a new day came a new storyline. The franchise announced on Tuesday that long-time Coyotes tough guy and Twitter sensation Paul Bissonnette received an invite to Blues training camp.
“I know I have to come in and make a team, and I don’t even know if there are spots available,” Bissonnette told the Blues’ website. “(But I) have to showcase and try to make a team.”
Through parts of six seasons, Bissonnette has recorded seven goals, 22 points and 340 penalty minutes in 202 NHL games. The 2003 fourth-round pick, 121st overall, has made a name for himself with his excruciatingly long bouts and his one-liners that can be read at 140 characters or less on his Twitter page.
The reason for Bissonnette’s invitation could simply be to add more competition in camp. Last season, the team added defenseman Ryan Whitney to camp with Alex Pietrangelo awaiting a new contract. During the training camp prior, defenseman Colin White was invited to add depth to the back end. Neither player received contract offers by the end of the preseason.
Bissonnette could also be receiving a tryout as a potential replacement if Reaves suffers another injury, possibly starting 2014-15 with the Blues’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.
The Chicago team received toughness last season from Cody Beach and Alexandre Bolduc, but neither forward laced up every game. Bissonnette, primarily an NHL player since the 2009-10 season, could play almost every night for the Wolves as he provides NHL experience that is regarded as a valuable asset in the AHL.
Much like the other signings of the off-season (Benn Ferriero, Colin Fraser and Peter Mueller, to name a few), Bissonnette could be treasured depth in case of injury.
Reaves vs. Bissonnette: Who wins?
As you can see, this battle has taken place in the past. That’s not exactly the question we want answered, though.
Bissonnette brings a presence to the Blues that Reaves simply cannot. Including athletes from all four major sports in North America, Bissonnette is one of the most recognized people on Twitter. His notoriety should not be overlooked as someone who brings free publicity for whichever team he joins (572K followers and counting). There is truly something to be said for someone who brings that type of power to the franchise.
However, this game is played on the ice. If Reaves is truly healthy, he is younger (27-years old to Bissonnette’s 29-years old) and already knows the Blues’ system and what to expect from head coach Ken Hitchcock. He’s also already under contract, meaning there are no negotiations needed. His 22 points match that of Bissonnette’s career numbers (in eight less games played), but he seemed to gel with current fourth-line center Maxim Lapierre last season.
Expect a strong camp from Bissonnette; he’s a competitor who won’t go down without a fight (literally). However, a healthy Ryan Reaves is one of the best fourth-line wingers in the National Hockey League.