Monday, June 26, 2017
By Marc-Andre Fleury
June 26, 2017
Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins takes photos with fans during the Pittsburgh Penguins Victory Parade (Getty Images)
It started in Nashville, 14 years ago.
Kind of ironic right now.
The 2003 Draft was at the Bridgestone Arena. As a young 18-year-old from Quebec, all I was hoping for was to hear my name. Pittsburgh had the third pick overall, but at the last minute, they made a trade with Florida to pick first. I had heard rumors that I might get picked by one of the first few teams, but didn’t believe it until I heard Craig Patrick call my name.
Pittsburgh. I would have been happy anywhere, but I got drafted by Pittsburgh. What a blessing. I would, maybe, get to play with Mario Lemieux. I would, hopefully, get to play for the team that had won back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’91-92. I would have a shot at playing in the NHL.
The next 14 years were beyond my wildest dreams.
But we raised the Cup, again, and it made all the sacrifices worthy. I felt proud — proud of my teammates for battling through injuries, for showing a lot of character, and for winning two years in a row. I am grateful that I had the chance to contribute to our success through the first rounds. And I feel very fortunate that the last time I have skated with a Penguins jersey, it will have been with the Stanley Cup in my hands. Not that it wasn’t an emotional moment.love
Fourteen years. Nearly half of my life. I remember my first training camp, in September 2003, like it was yesterday. I was so nervous. There are so many expectations on a first-round pick, and I didn’t want to let anybody down. I just tried to do my best, and wanted to leave a good impression. But when you face Mario Lemieux in training camp, it can be quite intimidating, to say the least.
Everyone knows him as Le Magnifique, a hockey legend. I always loved watching him growing up. I remember the first time I stopped Mario in practice. It was a simple warmup shot. But you better believe that I kept that puck — and still have it at home. Mario is a great role model for me — his loyalty to the team, his contributions to the community, how he handles himself and how he and Nathalie raised four great, humble kids. I’ll always be thankful for their support throughout the years.
My first home game was against the Kings at the Igloo on Oct. 10, 2003. My dream was becoming a reality. Maybe the excitement was a little high. So high, that, well … I forgot something. As everybody was getting ready to head out of the locker room, I made my way towards the ice, fist bumped a few guys (including Marc Bergevin and Mario) and then I realized that I had forgotten my stick. It was a pretty funny walk of shame past all my teammates to go grab my stick. As I was walking back, Mario cracked a little smile and said “You’re going to need that tonight, kid.”\
I guess he was right. First shot of the game, first shot I faced in the NHL, and it goes in. That wasn’t part of my dream. But then, thankfully, it got better. I stopped Ziggy Palffy — a guy I watched growing up — on a breakaway. Then I stopped a penalty shot and finished the game with 46 saves on 48 shots. We lost that game, but that one will remain one of my best memories in Pittsburgh.
Fleu-ry, Fleu-ry. Welcome Home
For a hockey player to get to play nearly 14 years in one city is a blessing. It wasn’t all fun and games, though. It was obviously difficult losing so much in the first few seasons. But then we got Geno. And then Sid. And then Staal (to name just a few). We started winning, and the Igloo was booming. It was a success built from figuring things out together, as a group. The loss to Detroit in the 2008 finals was one of the toughest experiences of my career. Being so close to reaching that Cup and then having to watch the Wings celebrate their win … it was brutal, but we needed it. I believe that, in the end, that loss helped prepare us for what was to come.
Game 7 of the 2009 finals in Detroit is without a doubt one of my favorite moments as a Penguin. Seeing my good friend Max Talbot score two huge goals for us was incredible.
And then, of course, making that save against Lidstrom in the last seconds was something I will never forget. I proudly sported a deep bruise on my ribs from that save for weeks following that game. I’ll always remember my teammates jumping on the ice, racing toward me with the biggest smiles. The feeling of winning the Stanley Cup that night is indescribable.Over the years, I probably don’t have to tell you, it’s been ups and downs. But one thing I will carry with me, long after I leave Pittsburgh — honestly, long after my playing career is over — is how amazing and strong the support was that I received from the fans.
One of my best memories is from earlier this season, actually. We had just been on a road trip and it was our first game back home against Tampa Bay. I had been struggling a bit. I couldn’t buy a save, and I wasn’t feeling great about it. Everybody was getting ready for the anthem, and the crowd started chanting my name. It made no sense. I wasn’t playing well. The game hadn’t even started yet. But they were behind me anyway.
Maybe they could sense that I was feeling a little down, and I needed it. We ended up winning the game, things turned around for me, and I ended up having a great season. That moment was the turning point, and it was because of our fans.
So thank you, fans. I wish I could put into words how much of an impact your support has made on me and my family. We have become Pittsburghers. My wife graduated from Robert Morris University, my daughters were born at Magee-Womens Hospital (sorry our commercial has been blasting on your TVs for more than a year), and our first house was in Moon. Pittsburgh and its people will forever be in our hearts.
Thank you to the Penguins ownership: to Mario and Ron, for their support and for striving to be the best organization by providing the team with the best people and the best facilities.
Thank you to the organization: from the great GMs to the coaches who believed in me. Thank you to Gilles Meloche and Mike Bales, my goalie coaches, whom I’ve spent most of my career with, for always being there for me. Thank you to the medical, front office and equipment staff for all the good times and friendships.
Thank you to my teammates. My friends. I am not good with the emotional stuff, and this is not easy. Over the years I have seen a lot of good people come and go. It is definitely one of the toughest parts of the business — making good friends and having to say goodbye. I have played with a lot of good dudes in Pittsburgh, and made so many good friends.
Thanks, Sid, for all the years. We spent a lot of time together, always sat next to each other on the plane, behind one another on the bus, plus all the dinners before every game on the road. Thanks for helping me get through tough times and for being a good friend. It’s tough to say goodbye. I know we were both trying to avoid it. You’re the best. Next time we face each other, make sure you keep your head up. The poke check will be coming, like that one time in Rimouski.
Duper, Tanger, Geno, Kuni — it’s been an honor to go through all of this together. I couldn’t have picked better teammates and friends.
And I guess I will stop there. Not because I have run out of people to thank or things to say — when it comes to my time as a Penguin, I think I could just go on forever.
And now here I am. I have a wife, two kids, and three Cups. I’m talking about my memories and saying my goodbyes. It might be an adjustment for my girls. They love waving the Terrible Towel and chanting, “Let’s Go Pens.”
Actually, when they see the Pens logo they say, “Go Papa Go!”
But I think we will tell them that moving somewhere new at a young age — yes it might be scary, but we just have to hang in there. We’re going to figure things out, and we’re going to find our way. And then we’ll blink, and suddenly that strange and new place … It won’t seem strange, or new, at all. It might even feel like home.
I still have a lot to wrap my mind around. I am honored that the Golden Knights picked me and I am looking forward to continuing to play the game I love. I don’t know how it will feel when I set foot in the PPG Paints Arena in February as the Vegas goaltender. Truthfully, right now I can’t even think about it. But what I do know is that I will be thrilled to see you all again.
Thanks, Pittsburgh. I will miss you.
Sunday, June 25, 2017
By Adam Gretz
June 24, 2017
From a big picture perspective the Pittsburgh Penguins acquisition of Ryan Reaves on Friday night isn’t really a major deal. Normally teams swapping fourth-liners and 20 draft spots wouldn’t be the type of move that would move the needle or send any sort of a ripple through the NHL.
This one is a little different.
This is the Pittsburgh Penguins — the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions — ever so slightly deviating from the path that made them the best team in hockey the past two seasons.
As general manager Jim Rutherford put it on Friday night after the trade, “We’re getting a little bit tired of getting beat up game after game.”
Rutherford was critical of the way superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were treated during the postseason and talked about how his team would pretty much have to add one or two players to take care of it since the league does not seem to protect its stars.
Commissioner Gary Bettman quickly dismissed that criticism upon hearing it.
On Friday, Rutherford added that guy and the discussion quickly turned toward the element Reaves brings and what it might mean for the Penguins.
Coach Mike Sullivan talked about how opponents played the Penguins “harder” this past season and that they expect it to continue again this upcoming season, and that Reaves can help with “a little pushback” and how teams “take notice” when he is in the lineup.
Reaves himself talked about what he can provide for the Penguins’ stars.
Here he is, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“It’s more just making sure everybody on the ice knows I’m coming every night. You go run one of my guys, you’ve got 230 pounds coming right back at you. Sometimes that makes guys think twice. When you’re 190 pounds soaking wet and you’re going after somebody on my team, and you’ve got somebody that’s 230 coming after you, sometimes it’s a deterrent, sometimes it’s not. But I think that’s kind of how I’ve established myself over the last year.”
This isn’t the first time the Penguins have been inspired to go down this path due to the treatment of their superstars.
During the 2013-14 playoffs New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi and Marc Staalmade a habit out of using the back of Crosby’s head and neck for cross-checking target practice in front of the net.
The response from Pittsburgh was outrage that nobody responded and for the team to add some sort of muscle to help take care of that.
Then this happened the following summer.
That guarantee went unfulfilled.
Liberties were still taken against not only Crosby and Malkin, but also against the Penguins’ other superstar, defenseman Kris Letang. He was on the receiving end of two brutal hits that injured him during the year. One resulting in a lengthy suspension to Zac Rinaldo, andanother from Shane Doan that knocked Letang out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.
They also tried it with Tom Sestito when they brought him in on a pro tryout contract. He ended up playing 17 games in two years with the Penguins. He was ejected from two of them.
Here he is at the time of his initial tryout talking about what he wanted to provide.
“When you play other teams and they have somebody who not only can play but can run their other guys, you see them holding off,” Sestito said. “They’re not going to be running other guys. Their third- and fourth-line guys aren’t going to run your guys.”
The names change. The idea remains the same.
Deter. Make them hesitate. Make them think about it. Answer back.
Still, the abuse continues.
All of this is a little unfair to Reaves because to his credit he has worked hard to improve his game as a hockey player and to be a little more than just hired muscle. He has worked to adapt his style to the faster NHL and to improve his play defensively. There was evidence of that this past season when he set career highs in goals and points.
If the focus on this acquisition were on that, or on his ability to forecheck, this would simply be a trade involving a couple of fourth-liners and we wouldn’t be talking about it right now.
But we keep going back to the presence, and the element, and pushback, and protection, and deterrence, mainly because that’s what the Penguins seemed to be after with this trade. Or at least what they seem to be selling.
So will any of that work? Can Reaves actually provide that sort of protection?
There is no doubt he will be willing to respond after the fact, because even though his fight totals have decreased in recent years he is still a willing heavyweight.
The issue is whether or not he can stop even a little bit of the abuse toward his teammates by making opponents like Washington’s Tom Wilson or Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky (two of the biggest thorns in the Penguins’ side) take notice.
The easiest way to answer that now is to look at what sort of abuse the Blues — Reaves’ former team — took in recent years.
It was a lot.
Over the past four seasons the St. Louis Blues — Reaves’ former team — were on the receiving end of eight incidents that resulted in supplemental discipline from the NHL (suspension or fine), typically reserved for the dirtiest plays. The only team that was on the receiving end of more during that stretch was the Boston Bruins (10 –and keep in mind, this was a team that had Shawn Thornton and Milan Lucic for most of those years).
During one nine-day stretch in 2014 the Blues lost T.J. Oshie and David Backes to head shots. The two hits resulted in seven games in suspensions while Oshie and Backes both missed playoff games. Reaves was in the lineup both nights.
The next season Minnesota’s Marco Scandella was fined for an illegal hit to the head on Oshie. Last year New Jersey’s Bobby Farnham was hit with a four-game ban for taking a late, cheap run at Dmitri Jaskin while Reaves was on the ice. There are also several other borderline hits that did not result in supplemental discipline (like this, and this, and this).
This isn’t to suggest that Reaves is bad at his job or that he is somehow responsible for those plays.
It is to point out that dirty stuff is still going to happen to star players whether he — or any player like him — is there or not.
Players like Tom Wilson, and Brandon Dubinsky, and Bobby Farnham are paid a lot of money to rattle the cages of players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That is what they do. That is their role and they are going to do it whether there is a physical element in the other team’s lineup or not.
The only thing that can stop it is a significant crackdown from the league to hand out harsher punishments when it happens.
It is very possible that Reaves can be a useful fourth-liner for the Penguins. He will play physical, he will be aggressive on the forecheck, he might chip in a few goals. Is he better than whatever alternative options they could have had for that spot? Or what they had in that spot a year ago? That remains to be seen.
The cost to acquire him really isn’t that high. Oskar Sundqvist seems to have limited upside and the difference between the No. 31 and 51 picks is typically insignificant, especially in what is thought to be a weaker class.
But if the Penguins are hoping for Reaves’ presence to stop opposing players from taking liberties against their stars they are probably setting themselves up for disappointment.
All it might do is get them the occasional pound of flesh in return after the fact and whatever satisfaction that brings them.
Maybe that is all they are looking for. Maybe it is a message to the league itself.
Whatever the reason, it is something they did not need on their way to consecutive championships.