While we’re not officially in peak rumor season, things are slowly beginning to pick up. Of the names out there are Jack Eichel, Dougie Hamilton and Vince Dunn, the latter of who we already discussed as a potential fit for the New Jersey Devils. But one player, a teammate of Eichel’s, would also be a pretty good target for Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald, that being Sam Reinhart.
Reinhart finished this season with 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games on one of the worst teams in the league in the Buffalo Sabres. It appears he’s on the way out, and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Reinhart is already receiving a lot of interest on the trade market (as did Darren Dreger).
Reinhart is 25 years old and will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. He has a track record of producing and fits in with most of the Devils’ core age group. He might cost a bit to acquire, but the Devils have the assets to make a deal happen. And with the team needing to surround Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier with talent, it’d make perfect sense to acquire him.
Reinhart By the Numbers
While Reinhart hasn’t exactly produced to the level you’d expect from a former second overall pick, he’s still been one of the more underrated scorers in the league over the last three seasons. He’s averaged 62 points per 82 games over that stretch and has finished with more than 20 goals in each season. Had this been a full 82-game campaign, he would’ve been on pace for 37 goals and 61 points.
Not only are Reinhart’s counting totals are impressive, given how much the Sabres have struggled, but plenty of his metrics are as well. He’s averaged 1.86 points per 60 minutes at five-on-five since the start of the 2018-19 season. That’s about the same as Ondrej Palat and equal to Kevin Labanc and Tyler Seguin. The Sabres have also had an expected goals share (xGF%) of 50.2 percent and Corsi share (CF%) of 50.6 percent with him on the ice. Considering how poor the team has been at five-on-five, that’s pretty decent.
Related: Devils Defense Needs Vince Dunn
Another metric useful in evaluating a player is goals above replacement (GAR). Reinhart finished this season with a GAR of 7.7, the best mark on the Sabres. In his previous two seasons, he finished with GARs of 5.9 and 10.5, respectively. There’s also an interesting trend in his GAR compared to his expected GAR. Aside from the 2018-19 season, where Reinhart performed close to expectations, his GAR should’ve been almost double what it actually was in the following two campaigns:
Reinhart has been one of the Sabres’ best players for a while, and though that may not mean much, he stacks up well against some of the league’s better forwards. His combined GAR of 24.1 since the start of the 2018-19 season is equal to Max Pacioretty’s and better than Jamie Benn and Patrick Kane. And his xGAR shows he’s even a bit more valuable.
One of the areas where Reinhart excels is in transition. He doesn’t carry the puck into the offensive zone at as high a level as some other forwards do, but he’s quite efficient breaking out of the defensive zone. I’ve mentioned this quite a bit lately, but that’s something the Devils need to improve significantly this offseason:
While Reinhart isn’t a zone-entry machine, that might not matter if he’s playing right wing on a line with Jack Hughes, who’s the king of zone entries. Once in the offensive zone, though, Reinhart finds success. He shot 19.6 percent this season, which isn’t sustainable. But he’s a career 13.6 percent shooter and is a 2.6 percent above league average shooting talent, per MoneyPuck. He’s a pretty decent playmaker, too, averaging 0.67 primary assists per 60 minutes since 2018, which is 0.04 less than Eichel.
What a Reinhart Trade Could Look Like
Not only will acquiring Reinhart probably cost quite a bit, but the Devils will also have to negotiate a new contract with him. Cap space isn’t an issue for the organization, so we’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a look at what it may take to trade for him.
It’s no doubt the Sabres will want a first-round pick for Reinhart. The Devils are not giving up the fourth overall pick for him, but they do have the New York Islanders’ 2021 first-round selection, which they acquired when they traded Kyle Palmieri at the trade deadline. That’d likely serve as a good building block to acquire Reinhart, even though it’ll be around 29th to 32nd overall based on the Islanders’ current position in the playoffs.
Next up would probably be including a roster player that could help the Sabres. The Devils have a couple of options that could make sense, namely Pavel Zacha and Will Butcher. Trading Zacha is not going to be a popular take among Devils fans after the season he had. But if there’s an opportunity to sell high on him, acquiring someone like Reinhart is when you’d pull the trigger. They’re both about the same age, but Reinhart has a much more consistent track record of producing than Zacha.
Butcher is a bit of an interesting case. He fell out of favor with head coach Lindy Ruff this season, and it seems unlikely the Devils will protect him at the upcoming expansion draft. Before 2020-21, Butcher had performed well as a no. 4 or 5 defenseman who could contribute on the power play. He only has a year left on his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent when it expires. That could scare off the Sabres, but they won’t be a good team next season. If they acquire Butcher and he plays well, they could flip him at next season’s deadline for more assets, which they desperately need.
Finally, the Devils may have to include a prospect too. They have quite a few forwards in their system who could be middle-six wingers they could trade away. Perhaps Jesper Boqvist could use a change of scenery, as he’s yet to find a place for himself in the Devils’ lineup and has fallen a bit behind the likes of Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen. With that said, the Sabres don’t have a lot of leverage since Reinhart seems to a change of scenery. So the Devils might not have to give up one of their top prospects to complete a trade.
Devils Can Afford a New Deal
Next would be negotiating a new contract for Reinhart. Evolving-Hockey has him projected for a five-year deal with a cap hit just below $6.95 million. That might seem expensive, but he’s been a consistent scorer throughout his NHL career, and it seems like fair value for what he brings to the table.
Related: Devils Draft Targets: Luke Hughes
As it stands, the Devils have just over $37 million in cap space. Even after signing all their RFAs, they should still be a bit below the cap floor. Fitting in a new deal for Reinhart as projected by Evolving-Hockey won’t be an issue, assuming the two sides can agree to that. Plus, he’s young enough where he fits in with the Devils’ long-term plans. He won’t turn 26 until November, so giving him a five-year pact would sign him through his prime, and they shouldn’t have to worry about him declining once he hits his 30s.
To sum it all up, Reinhart is an ideal trade target for the Devils. He has a consistent track record of producing, has good underlying metrics, and is young enough where he fits in with the team’s timeline. It may cost a bit to acquire him, both in terms of assets and money, but there’s no doubt the Devils would be a better team with him on their roster in 2021-22.
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017