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Condensed NHL schedule could have Ryan Reaves working OT

Ryan Reaves signed a two-year contract extension with the Golden Knights last June that guaranteed him $3.5 million.

I’m thinking the forward might need to put in for some overtime this season. Might need to ask owner Bill Foley to tag on another zero or two.

The NHL’s leader in hits is about to earn every cent over the next five months. That’s because the league season that begins Wednesday will feature a condensed 56-game schedule.

Think about this: Playoff hockey is always one of the best things dotting a sport’s calendar. Few events equal it for passion and drama and intensity.

Now, we just might get an entire regular season of such theater.

‘Hatred on ice’

It’s one thing to play a team, get in some chirping, maybe a fight or two, and then not see the same opponent for weeks or months on end. It’s another to spend a season playing the same guys in back-to-backs or even in four straight games.

The latter of which, by the way, the Knights will do against both Arizona and Colorado.

We’re talking a collection of mini playoff series long before the playoffs really begin. Ol’ time hockey, baby.

“You’re going to get a lot of hatred on the ice and a lot of familiarity with each other,” said Golden Knights coach Pete DeBoer. “A lot of battles that spill over from Game 1 to Game 2.

“That’s why, for me, playoff hockey in the NHL is the greatest sports event there is to watch.”

That’s why, for the Knights, Reaves becomes even more valuable.

I’ll take umbrage with whichever person or computer crafted a schedule in which the Golden Knights never play San Jose more than two consecutive games. Hockey needs four straight of the beef between Reaves and Evander Kane of the Sharks. We all need that.

For a fourth liner and modern-day enforcer who’s among the league’s best checking-line wingers, Reaves is beyond efficient at taking opposing players out of their games. Think of how important that becomes when you’re playing the same team over and over.

“It’s going to be intense,” Reaves said. “There is going to be carry-over. You can say or do something in January and forget it if you don’t play someone again until April. It’s a whole different thing to play them the next night.

“If you want to go run someone and start chirping, you’re going to have to put up with me the next game, if not two or three after that. I think guys will probably be a little more hesitant to start stuff against our team. I hope they are, anyways. If not, I’m ready for it. It’s going to be fun.”

There have been no exhibition games, no time for a player like the 33-year-old Reaves to impose his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame on those from other teams. No warmup to the real thing. The NHL is skipping right to the good stuff.

Every shift, every game, becomes more and more meaningful now. Rivalries will be more heated than ever. The top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs and the first two rounds are also within the division. DeBoer is right. We’re talking some serious Grade A tension brewing.

Only big bumps

“Yeah, it’s tough for me (without exhibitions),” Reaves said. “Getting into game shape definitely entails banging some bodies and getting into those scrums in the corner and kind of playing physical and getting into guys’ faces. Even chirping a little bit.

“It’s not something I lose. I always know how. But it’s not something you want to do to guys in (training) camp … One little bump on your own guy can turn into an injury.”

There won’t be many little bumps when things begin for the Knights against Anaheim on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. More like big ones. Say what you want about a condensed schedule and how tired players might seem at times this season, but things are going to get real nasty at times.

Ryan Reaves is about to earn every cent of that salary.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.