ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ryan Reaves had been around long enough to recognize the handwriting he could clearly see on the wall. His time with the Rangers was up.
Reaves, one of the most feared and respected enforcers in the NHL, and a popular veteran leader on a young Rangers team, had sat out the last four games and seven of the past eight, including the first three games on the West Coast road trip that ended Wednesday night with a visit to Anaheim to play the Ducks. So, with coach Gerard Gallant apparently having settled on a lineup without him in it, Reaves approached Rangers GM Chris Drury, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation, and asked to be traded.
Drury granted Reaves’ request and on Wednesday morning traded the 35-year-old winger to the Minnesota Wild, receiving a fifth-round draft pick in 2025 in exchange.
“It's always tough when you lose a guy that you had for three years, but that's part of our game today,’’ Gallant said of Reaves. “Obviously, I don't think he was happy with playing one game the last nine. So everybody wants to play, and that's part of it. And, you know, as coaches, we have tough decisions that we have to make. So he wants to play, and … that's basically what happened.’’
The move addresses the Rangers’ need to trim their roster to 22 – one less than the maximum allowed – in order to create some room under the salary cap that will allow them to make a move at the trade deadline to acquire a player for the playoff run. And by trading Reaves, rather than waiving him and sending him to the minor leagues, they opened up more space under the cap than they would have if they had kept him in the organization.
The Wild will take on all of Reaves’ $1.75 million salary, which leaves the Rangers a little under $2 million under the $82.5 million cap. In the NHL, salary cap space accrues on a daily basis, and according to CapFriendly, the space the Rangers now have will balloon to nearly $6.7 million in available space by the March 3 deadline.
For Reaves, a 13-year NHL veteran who was beloved in the Rangers’ locker room, the trade allows him to go to a team where he might have a better chance of getting ice time.
Reaves, who had played for Gallant with the Vegas Golden Knights and enjoyed his finest seasons under him, had essentially been replaced on the fourth line by the speedy Julien Gauthier. Gauthier started the season with AHL Hartford, but was called up Oct. 26 to fill in for Vitali Kravtsov, who was unavailable for the game against the Islanders that night because of an upper-body injury.
Gauthier played well after his call up, and had scored three goals and an assist in 12 games entering Wednesday. Once he played his 10th game for the Rangers in the opener of the current trip, last Thursday in Seattle, that meant he would have to be placed on waivers if the Rangers wanted to return him to the minor leagues. That was never going to happen, and so someone else had to go.
“I got close to (Reaves),’’ Gallant said. “I coached him for two-and-a-half years in Vegas. I coached him here for a year-and-a-half. So good guy, good solid person. Did the organization great. The players love him (and he’s) just a character person … Hopefully he'll go to Minnesota and play real well there.’’
Reaves leaves the Rangers having played 81 games over parts of two seasons after coming from Vegas in a trade in the summer of 2021 for a third round draft pick. He scored five goals and had eight assists for the Rangers, though he had no points in 12 games this season.