Ryan Reaves (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Ryan Reaves and players like him always claim to be finishing their checks, but the truth is that sometimes they shouldn't even start them. That was the case Monday night and now Reaves is sitting for three games.
We were not privy to what was said during Ryan Reaves’ disciplinary hearing that led to his three-game suspension, but it’s pretty safe to say Reaves used the good old, “just finishing my check” defense for slamming the head of San Jose Sharks defenseman Matt Tennyson into the boards Monday night.
And why wouldn’t he? Reaves is a marginal player, a fourth-liner who has forged himself a nice little career playing exactly that way. No doubt he’ll vow not to change his ways, despite losing more than $18,000 in salary. So there’s probably no rehabilitating guys like Reaves, those guys who are supposed to be out there to keep everyone safe, yet find themselves in an inordinately high number of incidents just like this one.
But what is so refreshing about the three-game sentence was the NHL’s explanation of it. In the video, the NHL says talks about how the hit could have easily been avoided and that, “Tennyson was never eligible to be checked on this play.” But it even went further, saying, “the onus in this case is on Reaves to ensure he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force or avoid the check completely.”
You hear that, guys? The onus is on the guy who is most in control of the situation, and that’s often the guy applying the bodycheck. It is not on Tennyson, who is making a normal hockey play by going to get the puck along the boards. In that situation, he’s trusting that he’ll only be rubbed out by an opponent, not slammed from behind. The onus is not on Tennyson’s defense partner, Dylan DeMelo, to hold Reaves up on the forecheck because that’s interference.
In this case, Reaves had every opportunity to pressure Tennyson into giving up the puck with a good hockey play, by using angling and his stick to force Tennyson into a turnover. And that may very well have produced a scoring chance, since linemate Scottie Upshall was pursuing from the other wing in support of the forecheck. Instead, Reaves decided to recklessly drill Tennyson from behind. The NHL noted that Reaves could easily identify that Tennyson was in a vulnerable position, and did not turn at the last second to turn a legal check into an illegal one, and had ample opportunity to change his course on the play.
Reaves can plead all he wants that he was only "finishing his check," but it's clear the NHL believes he should have had the sense to never start it in the first place.
Reaves could not have known that Tennyson’s head was going to slam into the station, nor could he have projected that Tennyson would be knocked unconscious, then have the back of his head hit the ice when he fell. But the dominos started to fall when Reaves made his decision not to let up or use another tactic, so he owns what happens as a result of what he did.
Tennyson did everything right on this play. He did not look behind him and he did not bail out on the play. Had he done so and the Blues scored on the play, there’s a pretty good chance he would have found his pants nailed to the Sharks bench for a spell. Instead, he stopped up and tried to reverse the play. Tennyson trusted his opponent would respect him on that play. He was wrong.
That was about the only mistake Matt Tennyson made on this play. The rest of the blame lies with Reaves and that’s why he’ll be spending the next three Blues games watching from the press box.