Contract years are typically when NHL players overachieve as a significant pay day is in sight. Is it a motive behind Buffalo Sabres’ winger, Evander Kane’s, performance through 34 games (14 goals, 31 points)? The last time that the upcoming free agent faced a contract renewal, he contributed 30 goals and 57 points (2012). And if this is a reason for Kane being the most productive player, what is the issue with Sam Reinhart? Should he be in that company for the 30th placed team to impress the new management and coaching staff?
Before the season began, I wrote about how the 2017-18 season should be a time to shine for the 22-year old forward. I mentioned how I thought Reinhart would be fine and was due for a breakout. This was not so much a prediction as it was what needed to happen and to this point, the former second-overall pick has been underwhelming.
It is hard to imagine that after seasons of 42 and 47 points, Sam Reinhart would find himself on pace for 26 (11 points in 34 games). I would have thought 50-65 would be the general ballpark and that he would have 22-25 points at least this far into the season. In observation of his play, body language shows that he is either lost or unmotivated. Playing mostly on the wing, Reinhart appeared to be skating in circles, as if he had no clue where to go. And in the offensive zone, he seemed shy about going for pucks and showing willingness to battle. He is far from a physical player but Reinhart has been witnessed to fight for pucks and use his body to control it. The last two games have been a slight improvement, where his feet were moving and he was confident while passing the puck, despite not scoring. Offensive production leaves much to be desired as his only multi-point outing (1G-2A) being against the Pittsburg Penguins on November 14. Tonight, versus the Philadelphia Flyers, Sam Reinhart can redeem himself as his placement in the lineup has shifted.
Sabres Beat Report, Paul Hamilton, tweeted that the slumping forward was reunited with roommate, Jack Eichel, and Zemgus Girgensons. After finding himself on the fourth line, Reinhart must have been jolted to pick up his intensity, resulting in the promotion to the top scoring line. The move shifts Evander Kane to the trio including Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo with hopes to balance scoring. The former Kootenay Ice star has played the best hockey of his career when paired with Eichel and he will want to prove that he belongs. As a gifted passer himself, Reinhart has the opportunity to open the franchise center’s goal scoring ability and make opponents have to be aware of both. With Girgensons doing the dirty work, Reinhart needs to be ready to create chances and produce.
With Tim Murray no longer in the organization, Sam Reinhart does not have the loyal backer who selected him with his first ever draft pick. Who did Jason Botterill have in that 2-spot of the 2014 draft. It is possible that Botterill liked Reinhart but would have insisted that he spend time in Rochester instead of starting immediately with the Sabres in 2015. The cupboards were not exactly full at the time but the ex-Pittsburgh Assistant has a different mindset on player development than Murray. After two solid years, Reinhart’s slow start might have Botterill wondering about his fit with their mission.
If there is a chance to change opinions, it is tonight. The Sabres will want to avenge their previous loss to the Flyers just a week prior. Sam Reinhart needs to be part of the solution to earn a win versus being viewed as part of the problem. With it being rumored that Botterill is listening on anyone not named Jack Eichel, the right move could force the Sabres to swap Reinhart for something viewed as comparable or an upgrade. If I am Sam Reinhart, I want to be that player that no one wants to part with. Breaking the slump and improving offensive consistency long term through the latter half of the season might suggest contract extension instead of trade bait. There have been plenty of players in Buffalo that do not produce and Sam Reinhart should strive to separate himself from the bunch to be part of the winning future that the coaches and management need to develop for this struggling hockey team.