Nobody will forget the pair of late-season meetings between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.
The two teams have always had some form of rivalry, but it really got interesting on May 3, 2021. The game got heated when Tom Wilson punched Pavel Buchnevich and later drove Artemi Panarin's head into the ice. Wilson wasn't suspended and was fined $5,000 instead, with the Rangers calling out the league's Department of Player Safety head, George Parros. The two teams met again two nights later, and, to the surprise of nobody, things got ugly with six fighting majors after just 4:14 of play.
The Rangers were fined for the outbursts in the second game. This time, the team is making it clear they're not going to be pushed around anymore.
GM Chris Drury sent a third-round pick in 2022 to Vegas to bring in Ryan Reaves on Thursday evening, adding one of the league's toughest players with 2,322 hits in 11 NHL seasons - only two players have more in that span. For a team that's in the middle of a rebuild with a host of young talent up front, the Rangers have their policeman, and he's not alone.
On the first two days of free agency, the Rangers added 6-foot-4 Patrik Nemeth, 6-foot-6 Jarred Tinordi, 205-pound Sammy Blais, 209-pound Barclay Goodrow, and 225-pound Ryan Reaves. Tinordi is a depth guy, but the rest of the signings clearly signal that Drury wants a rugged, hard team to play against - from an offensive, defensive and physical standpoint.
Reaves was beloved in Vegas. On a Stanley Cup contender with big names like Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, and Marc-Andre Fleury, it was hard to look around T-Mobile Arena and not see hundreds of No. 75 jerseys in the stands. It wasn't his one goal last season or his two playoff goals 84 contests. It was his physicality, the way he pissed off just about everyone and truly bled silver and gold for the team that made him one of the faces of the franchise.
And he'll be able to do that now in the Big Apple, one of the biggest, proudest hockey markets on the planet. Reaves is a no-nonsense type of guy, and you sure as heck know he's already jacked up for the season opener against, you guessed it, Wilson and the Capitals. He'll be ready for the call, but the Rangers, in general, should be, too. Anything that happens to Reaves tends to be newsworthy because of his reputation as one of the toughest agitators in the league, and in an Atlantic Division that features Wilson, and Brad Marchand in it, the nastiness is about to get nastier.
It's not perfect, but with the added size in the bottom six with Goodrow, Blais, and Reaves, that could allow players like Filip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov to focus on putting pucks in the net and taking some of the pain away. Let's not forget that the Rangers already have a few big boys in Miller (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) and Julien Gauthier (6-foot-4 and 227 pounds).
We should also expect to see better seasons out of Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, two early draft picks from the past two years that Rangers fans really believe in. Throw in the Norris winner in Adam Fox, the continued development of K'Andre Miller and Ryan Lindgren, the arrival of Nils Lundqvist, and the potential for Patrik Nemeth to flex his muscles in a depth role, and you've got a team that, while not perfect, is starting to show promise.
It's still asking a lot for this team to become a true contender. This is still a team that missed the playoffs and haven't added any big guns to change anything. But it's clear they're being patient with their young guys as they continue to take further steps in their development. If they pan out, at least New York is shaping up to be a tough team to play against.
But it doesn't matter if you can't win. Let's see what the added toughness does to change that.