September 18, 2023, 4:04 PM
MILTON, Ont. — Ryan Reaves knows the image.
The one that put a screaming exclamation point on the Florida Panthers’ five-game upset of the Toronto Maple Leafs in May.
The one where Radko Gudas celebrates just outside Toronto’s crease, all up in the grill of rookie goalie Joseph Woll, the series-clinching, overtime goal having just crossed the line.
“I hope he tries that. It would be interesting, wouldn’t it? That’d be fun,” Reaves smiled Monday, before teeing it up in Milton, Ont., at the Leafs’ annual charity golf tournament.
“I doubt there’s going to be any of that here.”
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One knock on the Kyle Dubas era of Maple Leafs — those regular-season darlings — was that they were too easy to push around, too quiet, too reliant on their loaded power-play as their main source of intimidation.
Going back to Toronto’s most recent series, the lunch-pail crowd was driven nuts watching David Kämpf get trucked in the corner by Gudas and the mild scrum that followed. Or the payback Sam Bennett never received for concussing rookie Matthew Knies with a play more WWE than NHL.
New general manager Brad Treliving clearly and assertively made stacking sandpaper a priority in his first free agency in this chair, signing heavyweight Reaves for three years plus Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi for one apiece.
“Just a lot of grit,” Reaves said.
“Obviously, they both have a lot of skill, too. But maybe something this team’s been missing is a little bit of grit over the last couple of years, and I think those guys fit the mould of what we need here. I think they’re exactly what was needed, for sure.”
Reaves, 37, trained this summer with some Golden Knights in suburban Las Vegas, but arrived in Toronto about three weeks ago to begin the bonding and bring the noise.
One should expect nothing less from a man credited with 81 NHL fights by HockeyFights.com.
The eldest Leafs forward has already taken a lead role in the team’s fantasy football league. He’s played a few rounds of golf and swilled a few beers with the boys after captain’s skates, even if that means staggering his unpacking from the move.
“I come in pretty hot. I tend to just chirp people right away and gauge their reaction, but it was pretty easy. I don’t really shy into it,” said Reaves.
“Everybody likes to hang out together, which is a good start for sure.”
While Reaves’ minutes will be limited and his foot speed scrutinized, what the veteran understands is his role. This isn’t a fading goal scorer or a young fourth-liner with first-line aspirations.
Everyone inside and outside that dressing room knows why Reaves is in town — and why, as a free agent, Reaves chose Toronto.
“I’ve been around for 14 years. I’ve been on good teams. I’ve been on some bad teams. I’ve been dug up a bunch of conference finals, a Cup final,” Reaves said.
“So, I know what it takes to get there. I’ve seen the things that work and things that really hurt you in the playoffs. I hope to kind of pass that knowledge along.”
No doubt, the construction of Sheldon Keefe’s fourth line — forever a work-in-progress — will provide intrigue when the Maple Leafs hit the Thursday for Day 1 of camp. Do they have the proper pieces to join Reaves on an identity unit? Or will the mix be off?
Regardless, Reaves himself is coming in confident, equipped with the security of term on his deal and the wisdom gleaned from 108 playoff games.
“It’s not gonna be a quiet room anymore, I’ll tell you that much. Yeah, I think I’ve been around for a while. I like to help with the young guys a lot,” Reaves said. “Yeah, just a lot of energy. Practice, games, whatever it is. I’m an energy guy.”
The goal is to eventually channel that energy into a championship party in the next three years.
“A chance to win a Cup. That’s why I came here,” Reaves said.
“You can look at this team from last year, last couple seasons what they do in the regular seasons — it’s only a matter of time. I just want to be here for when it happens.”
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