Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster--RW, Sam Reinhart*

Published by, 8-28-2018

Sam Reinhart
22 yrs. old
6'1" 192 lbs.
2014, 2nd-overall

Career Stats:  249 games |  65 goals |  75 assists |  140 points |  -44

The asterisks besides forward Sam Reinhart's name is there because the restricted free agent and the Buffalo Sabres have yet to come to terms on a contract extension. Reinhart played the final year of his entry-level deal in 2017-78 and did so in a bi-polar manner scoring only 11 points (5+6) through the 2017 portion of the schedule (38 games) before turning it on with 20 goals and 19 assist through the final 44 games.

A Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type season is could very well be the main reason the two sides have yet to come together on a deal. Then again the unsigned restricted free agent list right now has some big names on it, most notably Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander who might be the best comparable for Reinhart. The 22 yr. old Nylander played on a playoff team with the Leafs last season and posted a stat-line of 20 goals and 40 assists in 81 games while Reinhart's totals were 25 goals and 25 assists also in 81 games on a last place team. However, Nylander had a plus-20 compared to Reinhart's minus-24 and over the course of his young NHL career the Leafs winger has posted 48 goals and 135 points in 185 games.

There is a huge difference in the players themselves, their style of play and the teams they've played for over their young careers, but a Nylander contract might set the tone for what Reinhart ultimately signs for.

It's strange to say this, especially since the Sabres are coming off of their third last place finish in five seasons, but the salary cap is an issue this season. Center Jack Eichel's $8 million cap-hit kicks in this season and despite moving on from Ryan O'Reilly and his $7.5 million AAV, the Sabres added both Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka from the O'Reilly trade to the St. Louis Blues at the cost of a $7.35 million cap-hit. In addition the cost of upgrading left wing added Jeff Skinner's $5.725 million and Conor Sheary's $3 million to this year's cap. As of now the Sabres are $6.5 million under the NHL's cap ceiling, according to CapFriendly.

No bid deal, right? Just sign Reinhart to a $5-6 million dollar deal and call it a day.

However, as The Athletic's John Vogl points out, complicating the cap for next season are possible max-bonuses for two players on the first year of their respective entry-level deals. If both Casey Mittelstad ($850K) and Rasmus Dahlin ($2.85M) reach their max performance bonuses it will add roughly $3.7 million to this year's cap. Any cap-overage this year is deducted from next year's cap.

The eventual Nylander contract and cap implications aside, we're still not sure exactly what we have in Reinhart. We know he has a high hockey IQ, displays deft stickwork and despite having average at best NHL speed he's shown that he ability keep up with a speedster like Eichel using his smarts. We also know that despite being drafted as center, Reinhart plays much better on the wing and also that much of his goal production has come on the powerplay. His 29 powerplay goals over the last three years were second only to O'Reilly's 31 on the team and Reinhart has the highest ration of powerplay goals to goals during that span. Evander Kane scored only eight of his 68 total goals on the powerplay.

Reinhart has proven durable thus far missing only six games in his NHL career, but he also was benched for an entire game in 2016 when former GM Tim Murray and former head coach Dan Bylsma sat him after supposedly being late for a team meeting. And we're also left to wonder what caused the switch to be turned on last season while also left to contemplate whether or not it will last.

Last year was a really weird year in that Reinhart, as mentioned, was invisible through the first 38 games but came on strong over the next 44 games leading up to his RFA status. A season like that also brought back memories of another winger, Drew Stafford, who put up a career-high 31 goals and 52 points in a contract year that landed him a rather hefty four-year deal. Stafford had a good follow up season but faded hard and fast before being traded in the final year of the deal.

Most in Sabreland are pretty confident that the two sides will come together, most likely before the season starts, and when it happens Reinhart should be back on Eichel's wing. The two second-overall picks displayed a lot of chemistry prior to the start of last season when new head coach Phil Housley decided he wanted Reinhart at center.  That was a huge blunder and when Reinhart was moved back to the wing and it lead to that stellar finish to the 2017-18 season for him.

If this contract dispute drags into the season, the Sabres are in pretty good shape on the right side. Kyle Okposo, who played well with NY Islanders center John Tavares, could start the season up top and there are a few young wingers who one would assume are chomping at the bit for the opportunity to play with Eichel. Tage Thompson came over in the O'Reilly deal and GM Jason Botterill promised him an opportunity in the top-six. Nicholas Baptiste and Justin Bailey have been plying their trade in Rochester and have the wheels to keep up with Eichel. And we could even throw 35 yr. old Jason Pominville into the mix as he had a robust start to last season playing in a top-six role.

There's no reason to think that Reinhart won't be signed prior to the season and hopefully before camp. If that comes to fruition, top-line right wing seems to be a role that has his name on it.

Building the 2018-19 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Conor Sheary / C, Jack Eichel / Sam Reinhart

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