Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Buffalo Sabres' rookie forward Sam Reinhart was returned to the Kootenay Ice, his junior team, today. The 2nd overall pick in the 2014 Draft was held without a goal and managed only one assist with the team and was playing fourth-line minutes during the latter part of his stay. Because he did not appear in his 10th NHL game for Buffalo, his entry-level contract will not kick in.
Simple statistics dictate that the move was warranted. Other players in his situation like forwards Leon Draisatl (EDM, 2014 3rd-overall,) Andre Burakowsky (WSH, 2013, 23rd) and Defenseman Aaron Ekblad (FLA, 2014, 1st) all had better numbers and were playing bigger minutes.
For a statistical comparison, through nine games, Draisatl had a goal and two assists averaging over 13 minutes per game and Burakowsky has two goals and six assists averaging 14 minutes per game as the Capitals #2 center. Ekblad is averaging nearly 22 minutes of ice-time per game on the Cats defense. He's playing second-pairing minutes while being one of the anchors on the penalty kill unit. He has two assists.
And the teams that those three are playing on are in much better shape than the Sabres at this point. After a slow start a young Edmonton team with plenty of talent up-front has gained some traction having won four in a row before losing to Nashville on Wednesday. The Panthers also started slow but went 2-0-2 in their last four games. Washington sits right in the middle of the Metropolitan Division with a 4-3-2 record.
But, one could also say that although Reinhart was on a bad team in Buffalo playing just over 10 minutes a game, he didn't look that much out of place in an NHL rink. He's always played a subtle game and he continued with that during his stint with the Sabres. You could see progress as he was learning the game and he would have continued to learn more as the season went on. But it was not enough, especially when you look at the physical differences in Reinhart and NHL players.
Sabres GM Tim Murray talked about Reinhart's reaction to the demotion. "He was emotional. I guess he was emotional walking out of the rink. He should be disappointed. I told him that, ‘Be disappointed. You’re allowed to be disappointed.’"
But he's not the first, nor will he be the last player sent to junior. Said Murray, “Great players have gone back to junior, 99 percent of the players that have played here have gone back to junior. He’s still going to get something out of it.”
Reinhart will be leaving one poor team and heading to another one in Kootenay. The Ice are 3-12-0, dead last in the WHL, and although he'll certainly help in the scoring department where the team is last also (29 goals in 15 games,) we're not sure he'll be able to help with the goals against. The Ice have given up the third most goals per game with a 4.26 average.
In a text from Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com, he said prior to the Reinhart decision that "it won't hurt if he stays (in Buffalo) or goes (to Kootenay.) It doesn't matter either way."
What was of interest to Bakes and others is whether or not Reinhart would be playing for Canada in this year's World Junior Championship. He had two goals and three assists for Canada at last year's WJC, so the move by Buffalo is a good thing for Canada.
There will always be some kind of debate on the merits of a move like this one way or another. Reinhart is 18 yrs. old and still has some growing to do. Will he gain more from being a big fish in a little pond in junior? Or will he develop more under the watchful eye of the parent club even though he's in an extremely difficult situation.
Sabres head coach Ted Nolan reiterated something last night that he's said before, "I've never seen too many players ruined by sending them back versus keeping them too soon."
His boss, Murray had this to say, via a tweet from Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News, "I told him (Reinhart,) you're my first 1st-round draft pick as a GM. I was cheering for him, but obviously, I can't let emotions come into play.
"I told him he’s just not heavy enough. He’s not strong enough yet."
So will Reinhart gain NHL-strength in junior? Will he continue to learn about the NHL game in junior?
"He’s not going to learn a whole lot there on the ice, I don’t think," said Murray. "I know he can go back there and be a 120-point guy in a full season, playing three-quarters speed. But that’s not what we want him to do. We want him to go back there and get stronger.
“He’s going to have to find a way two or three times a week to slip out on his own and get to the gym and get stronger.”
More will be coming out as the day moves forward, but there you have the gist of their decision. The Sabres felt that sending Reinhart to Kootenay and him getting ice-time in junior was better than sitting on the bench in the NHL. As we've seen with Mikhail Grigorenko and Jake McCabe, both of whom had excellent camps and played very well in the preseason, proper development seems to be at the forefront of organizational decisions on younger players.
"It’s about putting people in the right place," said Nolan. "These kids have to develop, and when they develop we’re going to be a great team"
Murray's emotional detachment from the situation is also worth noting. It's a departure from the past when the former GM was said to be too attached to his draft picks. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard words like "I can't let emotions come into play" ever come out of his mouth in the 17 years Darcy Regier was GM.
The Sabres aren't done with the trials and tribulations of their teenagers. They still need to make a decision on the fate of Nikita Zadorov. The hulking defenseman has been with the club but has appeared in only one of 11 games logging only 6:12 of ice time. The Sabres have been buying time as there will be a tug of war between the OHL's London Knights and the KHL's CSKA Moscow as to where Zadorov will play once the Sabres send him down.
Murray provided a series of answers to the conundrum during his appearance on WGR's Schopp and the Bulldog before yesterday's game. For the Sabres, according to Murray, they have two options. “In talking to the National Hockey League, with Bill Daly and the people there," said Murray, "we have two options, one is to keep him here and the other is to assign him to London."
It's what happens if and when they decide to send Zadorov back to London that complicates things. "When that time comes, when he gets assigned to London if he does, if he decides not to go or the transfer agreement is not signed by the KHL team and him," continued Murray, "I’m sure the CHL will say he’s our property and then there’s going to have to be some type of an agreement come to between the KHL and the CHL and I’m sure the CHL would involve the IIHF.”
Murray added, “Is that part of the reason he’s here, yes. We’ve been trying to get some clarification for a long time. There’s not a lot of clarification, but the clarification is that if we don’t want him here then we send him to London. If we do that, does it become a long drawn out affair or is it a cut and dry thing, we’re not sure.”
One would think that had there not been this mess, Zadorov would already be logging big minutes with the Knights instead of sitting in the press box. But, Murray said that he will not interfere with Nolan's on-ice decisions. "I’m not going to walk down to the player room and tell them that ‘You have to play 51,’ that’s not my job. My job is to empower them to play who they think is right.”
A final quote from Murray (via Vogl) specific to the Reinhart demotion but apropot to Zadorov, is that Murray "[doesn't] see the value of the argument that you can sit on the bench here and work out versus going back to junior."