What the Sam Reinhart Signing Means for the Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers seemed to wrap up their offseason on Wednesday, locking up newly-acquired Sam Reinhart to a three-year contract worth $6.5 million per year. The team now has just $1.3 million in cap space remaining after the signing, but with Reinhart’s contract in the fold, it seems that the Panthers are locked in with the roster they have now.

What Reinhart Brings To The Lineup

Reinhart is a versatile two-way forward who can play both center and wing. With the third-line center role being a competition between some of Florida’s younger players, that versatility would be needed if none of the players in that competition look ready for NHL minutes yet.

The third line center battle consists of 19-year-old Anton Lundell, who is just arriving in North America after signing his entry-level deal, 22-year-old Aleksi Heponiemi, and 26-year-old Maxim Mamin. The three of them have a combined 42 games of NHL experience under their belt, so it’s entirely likely that none of them are able to slot into the lineup to start the season.

If Reinhart were to play center, Sam Bennett would slot into that third-line center spot with Reinhart playing on the second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. This opens up a wing spot for the likes of 21-year-old Grigori Denisenko, who had five goals and nine points in 15 American Hockey League games last season. Whoever wins the roster battle between the Panthers’ young guns, Reinhart’s versatility allows for them to be able to play them.

Sam Reinhart Buffalo Sabres
Former Buffalo Sabre Sam Reinhart. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

No matter where he ends up in the lineup, Reinhart will be a dynamic presence for the Panthers. The 25-year-old had a career-high in goals last season (25), despite the season being cut to 56 games. He also managed to add 15 assists for 40 points in 54 games played on a 15-34-7 Buffalo Sabres team.

With Reinhart locked into a spot next to one of Huberdeau or Aleksander Barkov, depending on which position he ends up playing, those numbers could likely rise even more this season.

He is also underrated on the defensive end of the ice, being in the right positions to make a play defensively, and being able to turn a takeaway into a breakout. It might not show on the stat sheet, with Reinhart being a minus-28 last season, but that plus/minus stat was a product of the abysmal Sabres team he played for. With a competitive Panthers team, his defensive abilities will be on further display this year.

What This Means For The Panthers’ Cap Situation and Roster

With $1.3 million left in cap space, the Panthers are likely done making moves unless they add a cheap defenseman ahead of training camp. This means that they are likely going into the season with the players they have on their roster now.

Here is an early projection of what the roster would look like:

Carter Verhaeghe-Aleksander Barkov-Sam Reinhart
Jonathan Huberdeau-Sam Bennett-Anthony Duclair
Frank Vatrano-Anton Lundell-Owen Tippett
Mason Marchment-Noel Acciari-Patric Hornqvist

Brandon Montour-Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling-MacKenzie Weegar
Marcus Nutivaara-Radko Gudas

Sergei Bobrovsky
Spencer Knight

One player who could be on the move to clear cap space is Hornqvist, who is making $5.3 million for the next two years. Paying that amount of money for a fourth-liner might not be the most effective way to use cap space and with the Panthers still having a hole on the left side of the defense, might need to be done.

Gustav Forsling is the only left-handed defenseman included in the top-six blue liners on Florida’s roster, which could be a problem entering this season. With the cap space they have left, Ben Hutton, Jordie Benn, and Braydon Coburn remain options on the free agent market who could be added, should Hornqvist not be traded.

The lack of cap space remaining, along with the dwindling goaltender market in free agency, also means that the Panthers’ front office believes that 20-year-old Spencer Knight is ready to handle backup goaltending duties behind Sergei Bobrovsky. After impressing last season in a short stint, going 4-0-0 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-against-average, he will likely start the season in the NHL.

Florida will have $14.5 million to work with next offseason, where Barkov will notably be a free agent. With Brayden Point signing an eight-year contract extension worth $9.5 million this offseason, Barkov will likely command a number similar to that of Point’s, leaving the Panthers with around $5 million left to spare in the 2022 offseason. Notable free agents other than Barkov include Frank Vatrano, Noel Acciari, and Markus Nutivaara.

Reinhart gives the Panthers some added flexibility, allowing for them to make changes with their roster where needed, and makes this team a bona fide contender with his skill. His $6.5 million cap hit is reasonable for the type of player he is, and it still allows Florida to keep their core intact past this season.