LOS ANGELES — Ryan Reaves is 35 now, and in his 16th season of professional hockey. So he’s experienced plenty of ups and downs. What he’s going through now may be the most difficult period for him in all that time.
“It's tough,’’ Reaves said Monday, before he was to be scratched from the Rangers’ lineup Tuesday against the L.A. Kings. “I think this is the longest stretch I've gone in my career of getting scratched. So it's tough. It's tough.’’
It’s especially difficult for Reaves to be going through all this while on a long road trip. At least if he were home, he’d be with his family, and his kids, son Kanen, 6, and daughter Kamilla, 3, would take his mind off the reality that is staring him in the face right now: That if he can’t play his way into the Rangers lineup, and everyone stays healthy, there’s a chance he may not be around much longer.
Rangers coach Gerard Gallant is a fan of Reaves, dating to their days together with the Vegas Golden Knights when Reaves had the best years of his career (a career-high nine goals in 2018-19 and eight in ’19-20). But right now, Gallant prefers a lineup that doesn’t have one of the NHL’s top enforcers in it.
“I want ‘Reavo’ to be a good player every night and be a big part of our group,’’ Gallant said last week, before the Rangers left for the four-game trip to Seattle and California. “Right now, we’ve added some more speed to our group, and when [Reaves] doesn't play, that's probably the reason.’’
Gallant has chosen to play the speedy Julien Gauthier over Reaves as the fourth-line right wing, and Tuesday was the fourth straight game, and seventh in the last eight, where Reaves — a beloved figure in the locker room — sat out as a healthy scratch.
Gallant said he’s spoken to Reaves about the situation, though he wouldn’t share what he said to him.
Reaves said he doesn’t know what to expect.
“I don't know exactly what the plan is,’’ he said. “But I just have to stay ready, I guess, for if and when it comes.’’
When Gauthier, who started the season in AHL Hartford before being called up Oct. 26 because of an injury to Vitali Kravtsov, played his 10th game with the Rangers last Thursday in Seattle, it meant the team could not return him to the minor leagues without first placing him on waivers.
Given that he had three goals in 11 games entering Tuesday, including a huge goal Saturday in San Jose that helped the Rangers pull out a 2-1 win over the Sharks, that seems highly unlikely.
The Rangers are currently carrying the maximum 23 players allowed on their roster, and that leaves them with a little more than $200,000 of available space under the NHL’s $82.5 million salary cap. If they reduce the roster to 22, they would clear a little more space under the cap and gain some flexibility in case they want to make a trade and add a player at the March 3 trade deadline.
But if returning Gauthier to the minors is not an option, then either Reaves or fourth-line center Ryan Carpenter appear the most likely players on the chopping block. Reaves makes $1.75 million this season, and if he were waived and sent to the minor leagues, the Rangers would save a prorated $1.125 million [the AHL allowance]. Carpenter makes $750,000, so sending him down would save them less money.
Carpenter also is a center, and his 56.3 percent faceoff win rate led the team going into Tuesday's game.
There’s also a chance Reaves could be traded, either to offload his salary, or help offset the salary of a player the Rangers might bring in. Either way, it is getting harder and harder to see how the Rangers can afford to keep him.