Thursday, March 30, 2017

Plenty of intrigue concerning the Sam Reinhart benching.

Publishes by, 3-29-2017

The score read Columbus Blue Jackets-3, Buffalo Sabres-1 and that loss coupled with wins by both Boston and Toronto officially eliminated the Sabres from the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

Normally the game itself and the fact that the Sabres now have a little 'x' by their name in the standings would be the crux of a story, but last night some drama was in play for Buffalo at Nationwide Arena. When you look over the Event Summary you'll find No. 23, Sam Reinhart's name and you'll find a series of empty white boxes across his stat-line.


Reinhart is on the summary because he did in fact dress for the game but Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma had him sit on the bench the entire game for disciplinary reasons. According to Jon Vogl of the Buffalo News a source had told him that Reinhart was late for a team meeting at the hotel and Bylsma laid down the punishment.

“Earlier in the day, Sam Reinhart violated a team policy, and the discipline was not playing in tonight’s game,” said Bylsma post-game. “We’re going to move forward from here. Disappointing, but it happened and we dealt with it. We’re going to move on from here.”

There was a dark cloud hanging over the Sabres dressing room after the game last night as their should have been. They lost the game despite spending oodles of time in the Columbus zone and outshooting the Blue Jackets by a 42-29 margin and there's little doubt they knew the fate of their season after the loss, but they also were witness to a strong statement by Bylsma that the team comes first and that a violation of team rules has it's consequences, however harsh it may be perceived as.

Sabres captain Brian Gionta came out after showering and graciously answered questions about the incident. Gionta had just celebrated his 1000th NHL game the night before by scoring the eventual game-winner against Florida and now he was at the other end of the spectrum. “We’re building a culture here, so everybody needs to learn from it," he said of Bylsma benching Reinhart for the infraction. "It’s about the long term of this franchise and where we go and how we grow as a team and as an organization. While it’s a small hiccup tonight, it’s better in the long run for what we’re trying to get to.”

When I asked the 16-year veteran if he'd seen this type of benching before Gionta said, "Yeah, it's happened plenty of times over the course of my career. Like I said, it's where we're trying to get through as an organization and we need everybody into it.

"I think it will be good in the long run."

Fellow second overall pick, linemate and roommate of Reinhart, Jack Eichel, sat in the locker room post-game peeling away his sweat-drenched pads. He had the typical Eichel redness about him after exerting himself for 23:41 of ice-time while spending time on the ice with every forward who skated last night.

Eichel hates to lose, and no doubt he hates to be out of the playoffs for the second time in his only two pro seasons. Perhaps there was even more consternation about him as his linemate and roommate was so visibly punished. He didn't have much to say afterwards. When I asked about being double-shifted down two top-six forwards he simply stated, "yeah, being down a few guys I got a little more, it was nice."

That was about it.

Reinhart is having a solid sophomore season for Buffalo from a statistical perspective. He's already surpassed his total of 42 points from last season with 17 goals and 29 assists and although his goal-total is down from the 23 he has last season, Bylsma said earlier yesterday morning on WGR550 radio that Reinhart has had a net-front presence this year but that he's not been able to get the tips or the rebounds to go in. Bylsma counted nine tip-ins last season and another four net-front goals but this year the coach said that the playmaker in Reinhart has been coming to the fore

"Sam has always been a pass-first guy," Bylsma told host WGR host Jeremy White yesterday. "He has shown, I think, that he's a true play-making, pass-first guy."

That said, there has been a bit of a change form his rookie year that's been noted by beat reporters in that Reinhart was no longer a constant presence at Ryan O'Reilly's after-practice sessions. Last season Reinhart played mostly on a line with O'Reilly and was a constant at the informal practice sessions soaking up everything the vet had to offer. And it showed as his game slowly gained traction. In his first 23 games Reinhart scored seven points (4+3) or .30 points/game while in his last 56 games he had 35 points (19+16) for .58 ppg.

This year he's been largely absent for the post-practice sessions and is on a pace for .51 ppg while playing mostly on a line with Eichel.

Is there a correlation?

Maybe. Maybe not. But who'd have thought that Reinhart, who grew up in a hockey family and who is considered to be a mature, professional player, would get suspended?

It's been rough and rocky travelling for the Sabres this season and the end result is that they'll miss the playoffs. There has been constant speculation that Bylsma may be losing the room and that there's some friction between Eichel and Bylsma. With that in mind, keeping Reinhart benched for the entire game certainly doesn't help matters even if Reinhart was needed to hit the NHL mandate for dressing a minimum of 20 players with Kyle Okposo as a late scratch due to illness.

Emerging from the cloud that hovered over the locker room last night was GM Tim Murray. Whether it's a peculiar sight having the GM on the road with the team at this point in the season is up for discussion, but he was there. The first thing that popped into my head upon seeing him was what Murray told a disappointed and emotional Reinhart after he was sent back down to junior back in 2014, "you're my first 1st-round draft pick as a GM."

Again, whether or not the Reinhart situation had anything to do with Murray being there is unknown but in the very least, he has some impeccable timing.

The Sabres have four days between games. They're off today and then begin to get ready for a matinee with the NY Islanders on Sunday. More on the incident will come out and it will be put to rest. As the season finishes up and as we begin the post-season we'll know more about the direction of the team. But as for now, the Sabres lost last night, were eliminated from the playoffs and have five games remaining in their season.

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