ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Rangers traded Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday as a necessary move to adequately function under the salary cap, but the acquisition of the veteran winger in July 2021 was a pivotal step in getting the club to where it is today.
The Rangers received a fifth-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft from the Wild in exchange for Reaves. More importantly, they created $1.343 million in cap space, trimmed the roster to 22 players and can now begin accruing more in preparation for the trade deadline.
The trade had to happen, but so did Reaves’ tenure with the Rangers, who were once in desperate need of even a fraction of the swagger that the 35-year-old enforcer carries with him each and every day.
Reaves still has value as an NHL player, just no longer for this Rangers team. After he skated in 11 of the first 12 games this season, it became clear Reaves couldn’t keep up with the speedy and skillful style of play the Rangers aspire to play. Reaves had dressed just once over the eight contests before the Rangers’ 3-2 loss to the Ducks, which made him a logical candidate to move one way or another.
At the end of the playoff run last season, in which he was scratched for Games 5 and 6 of the conference final against the Lightning, it was not lost on Reaves that his niche fourth-line role might diminish depending on how things unfolded in the offseason. That became a reality rather quickly.
It is believed there was an understanding between Reaves’ camp and the Rangers that if it were possible to find a good fit for him elsewhere, a deal would be done. Facilitating a trade was always going to be the preferred route so the Rangers could shed as much salary off the books as possible, instead of the prorated $1.125 million they would’ve cleared by assigning Reaves to AHL Hartford.
Part of it was also wanting to give Reaves a dignified departure. The impact he made during his 483 days in New York did not go unnoticed, and the Rangers evidently wanted to do right by him.
There was interest in Reaves, but not as much as there would’ve been if not for how Julien Gauthier leapfrogged him on the depth chart. Gerard Gallant coached Reaves with Vegas, and they developed a relationship, so the fact that the Rangers head coach wasn’t playing him likely spoke volumes to the rest of the league.
The trade seems to have benefitted all involved. The Rangers received a low draft pick, which might not seem like much, but really is when considering they could’ve gotten nothing if they had waived Reaves and he was claimed. Reaves gets to join an up-and-coming team with young talent and a familiar face in Wild general manager Bill Guerin, who was the assistant to Jim Rutherford when he was with the Penguins in 2017-18. And Minnesota gets a player who is known to bring life to a locker room.
“It’s not for the fighting,” Guerin told The Athletic. “He’s a big personality. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s got swagger. We’ve been missing that. The energy he brings is really good. And size. He’s going to help us get our identity back.”
That is Reaves’ essence. The Rangers needed his animated demeanor, infectious attitude and unapologetically bold presence. Reaves is more than his physically imposing contributions on the ice. There is a different kind of confidence to a locker room with a player like Reaves in it.
Reaves brought the fun to every practice, often making his teammates belly laugh along the boards in between drills. Every one of his Rangers teammates had said at least once that they skated a little taller whenever he was around. He taught Vitali Kravtsov how to fight. He even coined his own pregame tradition, in which he would yell at the top of his lungs for goalie Igor Shesterkin to “release” the rest of the team.
Parting ways may have been necessary, but the Rangers needed Reaves to help rediscover their flair. They’ll likely still be able to hear the echoes of his voice every time they take the ice.