Top 5 Potential Landing Spots for Buffalo Sabres Center Sam Reinhart
Jack Eichel's remarks during his end-of-season interview dominated recent NHL headlines. The Buffalo Sabres captain voiced frustration over what he called a "disconnect" with management regarding treatment for his season-ending neck injury. His comments stoked speculation over his future in Buffalo, though Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams told reporters the star hasn't requested a trade.
Eichel, however, wasn't the only Sabre sounding uncertain about what's to come. WGRZ.com's Julianne Pelusi reported Sam Reinhart wouldn't commit to a return to the club next season during his exit interview. He intends to take time to ponder his future.
Reinhart, 25, was the Sabres' leading scorer in Eichel's absence this season, with 25 goals and 40 points in 54 games. A versatile forward who can skate at center or wing, he's reached 40-plus points in each of the last six seasons and exceeded the 20-goal plateau five times.
Cap Friendly shows Reinhart will be a restricted free agent who has arbitration rights this summer and is coming off a one-year, $5.2 million contract.
Reinhart indicated during his exit interview he doesn't want to be part of a rebuild. If the Sabres go that route, he could sign a one-year deal for 2021-22 and then depart for greener pastures next summer as an unrestricted free agent.
Rather than risk that scenario and lose him for nothing, the Sabres could consider shopping Reinhart this offseason. Here's a look at the top five potential landing spots. Roster fit, salary-cap space and geographical location factored into this compilation.
5. Anaheim Ducks
On May 11, TSN's Frank Seravalli linked the Anaheim Ducks to Jack Eichel, speculating general manager Bob Murray "wants to make a splash." If acquiring Eichel isn't possible, perhaps Murray's focus will shift to Reinhart.
With Ryan Getzlaf approaching the end of his NHL career, the Anaheim Ducks need an experienced scoring center. Reinhart could be a good fit, depending on what Murray has in store for his club this summer.
Bolstering the Ducks offense should be the priority. Their 2.21 goals-per-game average and anemic 8.9 power-play percentage were dead last overall.
The promising Trevor Zegras, 20, has the potential to become a reliable first-line center. However, the Ducks need an established veteran scorer to share the burden and show Zegras the ropes.
With $58.9 million invested in 13 players for 2021-22, the Ducks have the cap space to acquire Reinhart and give him a decent raise. They'll get more wiggle room should sidelined center Ryan Kesler ($6.88 million) remain on long-term injury reserve next season with his hip ailment.
Reinhart would be a more affordable option than Eichel in terms of salary and trade package. However, his reluctance to play for a rebuilding club in Buffalo could also make him resistant toward a long-term commitment in Anaheim.
4. Vancouver Canucks
In the May 11 edition of his "31 Thoughts" column, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman suggested more than one western Canadian team would love to have Reinhart if he wants out of Buffalo. Perhaps the Vancouver Canucks will be among them.
Friedman observed Reinhart was born and raised in West Vancouver. The following day, WGR 550's Paul Hamilton told Sportsnet 650 radio he's heard the Sabres forward wants to be traded to the West Coast, pointing out he's from the Vancouver area.
The Canucks already have two top-six centers in Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat but they are a bit thin in right wing scoring depth beyond Brock Boeser. Reinhart could slot in on the first or second line.
Finding a suitable deal to satisfy the Sabres and squeeze him within the Canucks' cap space could be challenging.
Given Reinhart's contract status, the Canucks could seek permission to speak to his agent about a contract extension. They won't want to risk assets on a player who could bolt next summer as an unrestricted free agent.
The Canucks have $66.5 million invested in 16 players for 2021-22, with Pettersson and top defenseman Quinn Hughes due for significant raises this summer as restricted free agents. The team could end up shedding at least an additional $7 million to free sufficient cap space for Reinhart's new contract.
If the Sabres are rebuilding, they'll want a return of at least either a high draft pick or top prospect plus a good, young, NHL-ready player. They could ask for rookie Nils Hoglander plus promising Vasili Podkolzin or Jack Rathbone. The Canucks could insist that underachieving Jake Virtanen be part of the return to shed his $2.55 million cap hit for next season.
3. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers would be another western Canadian option for Reinhart. The opportunity to play alongside superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl could be tempting.
That could depend, however, on what happens with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The long-time Oilers forward will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He's completing a seven-year contract with an annual average value of $6 million.
The Oilers lack reliable offensive punch at right wing. If Nugent-Hopkins departs, perhaps GM Ken Holland uses the savings to address that need by acquiring a scoring winger.
Reinhart could be a good fit on McDavid's or Draisaitl's line. His ability to play center could also give the Oilers the option of sliding him into the second-line center spot while moving Draisaitl up to McDavid's left side.
The Oilers have $59.3 million invested in 16 players for next season. Starting goaltender Mike Smith and defensemen Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie are impending unrestricted free agents who must be re-signed or replaced, which will bite deep into their cap space. Still, there could be enough to sign Reinhart.
Finding a suitable offer for the Sabres, however, could prove difficult. Holland likely won't part with his first-round pick in this year's draft when he lacks selections in the next two rounds. The asking price could include 2020 first-rounder Dylan Holloway and perhaps winger Kailer Yamamoto.
2. Calgary Flames
Big changes could be in store for the Calgary Flames following two disappointing seasons. If the Sabres cannot ship Reinhart to his hometown Canucks, maybe they'll consider the Flames.
Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau has been the subject of trade speculation since last year. His eligibility next summer for unrestricted free agency could prompt general manager Brad Treliving to trade him before his modified no-trade clause kicks in July 28.
Trading Gaudreau would leave a big hole in the Flames offense, but acquiring Reinhart could help fill that gap. Both players won't be swapped for each other, as the Sabres aren't likely to acquire someone they could lose to free agency next summer.
Treliving could attempt to move Gaudreau in a separate deal and then send whatever assets he receives to the Sabres for Reinhart. Failing that, a young Flames player like winger Dillon Dube, 22, or defenseman Juuso Valimaki, 22, could also be part of the return along with a top pick or prospect.
The Flames have $67 million committed to 13 players next season. However, they could shed $6.75 million by trading Gaudreau for picks and prospects, leaving enough to handle Reinhart's new contract. The move would give the Flames a right winger who can also play center, though it would leave them thin at left wing beyond Matthew Tkachuk.
1. Los Angeles Kings
Eichel's comments sparked speculation linking him to the Los Angeles Kings. On May 11, Seravalli reported the Kings had a cursory discussion with the Sabres before the trade deadline about Eichel. He expected those talks could pick up this summer.
The cost of acquiring the Sabres captain, however, could be expensive for the Kings. If so, general manager Rob Blake could instead look into Reinhart's availability.
Blake could feel pressure from among his veteran players to bring in more immediate help following two years of rebuilding. Kings defenseman Drew Doughty called on management to bring in some experienced help during his exit interview.
Reinhart would be a more affordable addition to the Kings' cap payroll than Eichel's $10 million annual average value over the next five seasons. He also wouldn't cost as much in terms of draft picks and prospects. The savings could be put toward adding a scoring forward or a top-four defenseman.
Given Reinhart's reluctance to play for a rebuilding club in Buffalo, Blake would have to assure him that the Kings are close to becoming a perennial playoff contender. Still, their roster potential, cap space, prospect depth and draft picks should make them the best trade partner for the Sabres. While they're well down the coast from western Canada, they're much closer than Reinhart's current location.