NHL free agency 2023: Maple Leafs sign bruising winger Ryan Reaves to 3-year, $4.05 million deal

The Toronto Maple Leafs made an investment in toughness on the first day of free agency.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 10: Minnesota Wild right wing Ryan Reaves (75) looks on during a game between the Minnesota Wild and the Chicago Blackhawks on April 10, 2023 at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have added a different element to their roster in the form of hard-hitting winger Ryan Reaves.

Reaves has signed a contract carrying a $1.35 million average annual value through the 2025-26 season. The winger split his 2022-23 season with the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild, producing 15 points in 73 games while averaging 9:19 in ice time per night.

That minimal offensive contribution is not what the Maple Leafs are paying Reaves for, though. They could undoubtedly find a younger, cheaper, player capable of matching or exceeding them.

Instead, the team clearly values Reaves as a physical tone setter capable of delivering bone-rattling hits all over the ice.

Over the last four seasons, only three players have more hits than the 932 Reaves has thrown. The 36-year-old doesn't drop the gloves as much as he used to, but he's also more than capable of handling himself in a fight. His 1,023 career penalty minutes rank eighth among active players.

By making this move, the Maple Leafs are clearly putting a premium on the toughness that Reaves brings, but it's unclear if that nastiness contributes to winning hockey games in the modern NHL.

If having a guy like Reaves around guaranteed team success, he would've picked up a Stanley Cup ring in his 13-year career — and similar moves for Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds didn't help the team in the past.

Inking Reaves sends the message that the Maple Leafs want to be 'difficult to play against' and 'don't want to be pushed around,' but translating those abstract concepts to wins and losses is borderline impossible.

What we do know is that a team that entered the first day of free agency with just $5.981 million in cap space, just used $1.35 million on a 36-year-old player who doesn't do much offensively or defensively — and doesn't contribute on either special teams unit.