Sabres Should Build Around Sam Reinhart

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs dwindle to four teams, the offseason speculation has begun. The Buffalo Sabres are at the forefront of trade speculation regarding their star players, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. The Eichel situation has been discussed at length, but the more intriguing scenario is how this organization views Reinhart. He is a restricted free agent this summer, and the time to commit to him is now. He signed a one-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.2 million last offseason, and he outplayed that deal. He scored at a 37-goal pace over an 82-game season, and that performance has made many teams interested in him.

He is such an effective top-six winger and has proved that he can handle playing center when needed. From March 31, he became the team’s first-line center down the stretch, and in those 22 games, he produced 13 goals and 19 points. Eichel only played 21 games this past season, and they traded Taylor Hall after he scored two goals in 37 games. It was hard to produce for the 2020-21 Sabres, but Reinhart found a way.

This article will dive into his market value and use the micro stats and video scouting to evaluate his play as a Sabre. He has been such a loyal member of this franchise and is an effective player that can be a part of a team’s core.

How Much Is Sam Reinhart Worth?

Using CapFriendly’s comparable tool, William Karlsson appeared to be the most intriguing option to compare Reinhart’s future contract. In Karlsson’s age-25 season, he signed a one-year deal worth $5.25 million, almost identical to Sam’s bridge deal from the last offseason. Coming off his 43-goal season, the Vegas Golden Knights wanted to make sure that he was a legit player. He was rocking an insanely high shooting percentage of 23.4 percent, and although he regressed to the mean, he’s been a legit top-six center for a Stanley Cup contender. Ultimately, Karlsson signed an eight-year, $47.2 million contract, with an AAV of $5.9 million.

Sam Reinhart Buffalo Sabres
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The salary cap has not increased since Karlsson’s signed his contract in 2019, so Reinhart’s would be very similar. It all depends on if the Sabres are finally ready to commit to the player. There’s only so much time that you can offer a short-term deal to a good player, as Reinhart is one year away from unrestricted free agency.

Related: How Sabres’ Legend Taro Tsujimoto Came to Be

The potential Eichel trade will bring more draft capital and prospects into the system, and another rebuild appears to be in sight. We know that Reinhart doesn’t want to stick around for another rebuild, and he is looking to at least make the playoffs. Can you convince him that the organization is on track to build a winning team within the next few seasons? It is going to be quite the challenge, but they have to try.

How Reinhart Is so Effective as a Two-Way Player

Let’s start diving into various micro stats and charts to perceive how Reinhart has played over 2017-2020. Looking at JFresh Hockey’s model, it shows that Reinhart had a 1.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his past three seasons. A player’s WAR rating signifies the number of additional wins his team has achieved versus substituting him with a replacement-level player. He ranks above replacement level (over 50%) regarding his offensive and defensive impacts at even strength. The key takeaway is that he ranks in the 89th percentile of all NHL players regarding his finishing ability. He may not generate the most scoring chances, but he will finish on many of the ones he can create.

(@JFreshHockey on Twitter)

To get more perspective on his play in the 2020-21 season, I will showcase his RAPM chart via Evolving-Hockey. RAPM stands for reviving regularized adjusted plus-minus, which is used to isolate a given player’s contributions on the ice. What stands out the most about Reinhart’s play at even strength was his defensive numbers, specifically his 2.8 expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60). It may be confusing to look at this chart, but anything that shows up in blue means he made a positive impact. Let’s dive into the video to really showcase his offensive reads and his terrific finishing ability.

(@Sabremetrix on Twitter)

The following goal showcases Reinhart’s ability to find space in the offensive zone and wire a one-timer into the back of the net. He is not that fast of a skater, which was used against him heading into his draft year. He has to use his offensive awareness to create space instead of Eichel, who can use his elite explosiveness to create a shooting lane. Reinhart’s style of play will age gracefully as he gets older because as he gets slower, he will still have his mind to make the same decision when it comes to passing and shooting.

(@BuffaloSabres on Twitter)

There are countless examples of Reinhart’s finishing ability, whether it’s batting a puck out of mid-air or sniping a shot off the rush. He can do it all. The micro stats and eye test paint him as a play driver, and although he shouldn’t be the best player on the line, he can play with elite players.

The Sabres need to decide if they want to trade another good player out of town. For a team that is lacking depth in their lineup, depleting your roster of talent doesn’t seem like the answer to go. The likelihood of winning a Reinhart trade seems small, and the outcome of the Hall trade doesn’t give me hope that general manager Kevyn Adams will get a satisfying return. It would be a better option to keep the player on a long-term deal and build around him.

Sign up for our free ‘Sabres Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.