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Reaves, Blues make moves to improve

Rugged winger says club has learned from its past mistakes

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Once it starts, the arms race is almost impossible to avoid.

So says St. Louis Blues forward Ryan Reaves, gazing into the 2014-15 season in the ultra-tough Central Division.

It was already considered by most the deepest division of the NHL, then the teams started bulking and beefing up this off-season, to the point where every member has added one or more significant players. And maybe it was prompted by a keep-up-with-the-Jones attitude.

In St. Louis's case, centre Paul Statsny was one of the league's biggest catches on July 1, moving over from Colorado as an unrestricted free agent.

"From the talk you hear from people around the league, the Central Division is one of the toughest divisions and I tend to agree," Reaves said Thursday after the completion of another summer workout at the MTS Iceplex. "You look at all the teams and they're all stacking up with high-end players and they have really good teams they're putting on the ice.

"I think when you're in a division like that and you're playing those teams many times, you do have to kind of keep up with them. Whether teams are keeping up with us or we're keeping up with Chicago, that doesn't really matter because you have to make sure your product is on the ice and that it can win the division."

There was a certain unloving posture when Reaves mentioned the Blackhawks.

A late-season slide of six losses -- one that cost them the 2013-14 regular-season overall and division titles -- and some bad luck pitted his Blues against the Hawks in the playoffs' first round. The first two games of the series went to St. Louis, but it ended with four straight Chicago victories.

This is history the Winnipegger would rather not revisit, something he made more than clear on Thursday.

"I've completely forgotten about it," Reaves said. "I think for the last three years, we've always been talking about last year, how there was an early exit and this year will be different. I'm not going to be talking about last year anymore.

"It is what it is and we didn't get it done and I'm sure we all know that, but we're going to make some changes this year. It's always going to linger in the back of your head and that motivates you, but thinking about it never helps."

The 27-year-old former Brandon Wheat King also made it clear he doesn't much care for the talk of optimists, that it takes a close call or two and a dose or three of disappointment to figure out how to climb the mountain to the Stanley Cup.

"I'd rather not experience that," he said. "I'd rather just push all the way right away. But some teams go through it, where they have a good team and they make that early exit and it stings and it motivates you and hurts you and all the stuff like that.

"I think we're that team. We keep learning from past mistakes, but we haven't quite corrected it yet and I think this year is going to be a correction year."

Reaves has always been a gung-ho sort, fitting his role as a rugged customer (126 PIMs last season) patrolling the right wing.

With 194 NHL games under his belt and now a regular role to play on the Blues, he re-signed this summer, earning a four-year deal with the Blues worth $4.5 million.

The raise and his enthusiasm for what's ahead are healthy.

"I think you can always do more," he said of his summer training. "Since I've been with St. Louis permanently, I've tweaked a couple of things and really started to work on things that they want me to work on. And some things I want to work on, too.

"When you're on a team with as many good players as we have, you always want to be working on the next thing, just to make sure you have that spot on the team. I've been plugging away on things that will help out during the stretch."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2014 C4

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