Coming on strong in a 6-4 victory over the Boston Bruins, Friday’s hat-trick serves as an exclamation mark on the 2014 second overall draft pick’s season. Battling injuries early in the year and playing on a team with significant problems of its own, Reinhart has come out on the other end of it looking no worse for wear. The mark of a solid pro.
As we near the end of the Sabres’ season, he has 20 goals and 33 points in 46 games played. These aren’t remarkable numbers by any stretch. Good enough for first in points on the team, but only enough for 70th in league scoring. But when you put it in context, scoring 20 goals on a team that routinely gives up far more scoring chances than it creates is itself an accomplishment.
The Sabres, overall, have fared much better in games since interim head coach Don Granato took over the bench from Ralph Krueger. In the last 35 games with Krueger, the Sabres had a measly four regulation wins. In the first 11 with Granato, they’ve had five. The team is now 7-10-3 since the change.
Compared with the 6-18-4 record before it, and judging by how things are going right now, Granato is earning himself a spot on the shortlist for candidates to take over the permanent position. He might have been hired to keep the seat warm for whoever comes next, but the rest of the season will determine what direction things will head in.
Whoever does take that job will have the opportunity to halt the Sabres’ unenvious streak of firing a coach every two years, dating back to Lindy Ruff in 2013. Through it all, one constant has been there since he first put on the blue and gold sweater.
This year, despite the 18-game winless streak (0-15-3), despite the injuries of both the lower and upper-body variety, Reinhart has produced on a fairly consistent basis. Through 26 games with Krueger at the helm, Reinhart put up 11 goals and eight assists. With Granato the past 20 games: nine goals, five assists.
And who was it that got the party started when that winless streak ended with his 13th of the season, the first of the game on route to a 6-1 shellacking? You guessed it, Reinhart.
Since his debut in 2015-16, Reinhart has only failed to score 20 goals in a season once during his 2016-17 sophomore “slump.” Even then, he put up his second-highest career assist totals with 30.
They may take away our wins, but they’ll never take our freedom!
For Reinhart, this means the freedom he gains for himself with an ability to sneak behind defenders and find the soft spots where he can support his teammates and receive passes in dangerous scoring positions.
That’s one of the reasons that, even if the team doesn’t have success, Reinhart finds a way to remain a solid pick in fantasy hockey pools. It’s his elite ability to stay hidden in the play, only to pop his head up and be in the exact right spot at the right time; that had teams interested in him at the deadline.
A key example of this was Reinhart’s second goal on Friday night versus the Bruins:
He rushes Bruin’s defender Jeremy Lauzon off the scrambled faceoff to prevent the easy out up the boards, then remains patient and enters stealth mode. That’s where a little luck takes over. Charlie Coyle tries to execute a well-known Bruin breakout by throwing the puck right out in front to Halak. But he must not have seen no. 23 streaking towards the goalie as if charging into battle. The pressure caused Halak to fumble the puck. With one swipe of the sword so graceful it would elicit praise from William Wallace himself, Reinhart had himself an easy goal to make it 5-1.
Reinhart’s Role in the Future
Trading Reinhart at the deadline looks like it would have been a big mistake. But still, there were some rumblings that general manager Kevyn Adams was headed in that direction in the lead up to April 12.
The Athletic’s NHL Trade Deadline Big Board had him ranked at number 6.
“General managers also believe Sam Reinhart could be on the move, though the talk there hasn’t been about trading him for more draft choices but for a comparable player. Said another GM: “The ask is for a top-six forward. He’s not looking for a draft pick. He wants someone in a similar age bracket, maybe a different position, maybe a left shot, maybe a center, but a top-six forward. But if you give that, are you any better? Or are you just treading water?”‘NHL Trade Deadline Big Board: Taylor Hall, Mattias Ekholm and 28 others who could be dealt,’ The Athletic, Mar 19, 2021
It doesn’t take a rookie GM to see that the Sabres wouldn’t have gained a lot from this sort of a trade. If he could have vacated the roster for high picks and a couple of gem prospects, it would have been hard to turn away from at this juncture. But all indications are that the market didn’t exist for this kind of hypothetical trade.
So, I guess that means the Sabres are just going to have to be stuck with a yearly 20-goal scorer who has a penchant for ignoring the noise and doing his job night in and night out. That’s precisely what the team will look for from him in the future as it tries to rebuild yet again.