We’ve reached the slow time for not only the Buffalo Sabres but the entire NHL. While we may still have some significant moves to be made around the league, the majority of the roster shuffling has subsided.
Teams are now beginning to focus on their own restricted free agents, especially with arbitration hearings on the horizon.
This is no different for the Sabres who might not have to worry about arbitration with Sam Reinhart, but his new deal has become the next focus of the offseason. The 2014 second overall pick is an interesting discussion in terms of what his next contract will look like.
The salary range can come in anywhere between $3.5 million to $6 million annually on a bridge or long-term contract.
I composed a list of 13 current comparable contracts in an attempt to begin to draw a picture of where realistically we could see Reinhart end up.
Quickly, to explain the stats on the list. The goals and points per 82 games are based on each player’s production over the past three seasons (2015-2018).
The first thing that jumped off the page to me was all the bridge contracts. A few years ago, these short-term deals were considered rare as most teams looked to lock up their young talent for the foreseeable future.
Now, it looks like we have a re-birth of the bridge deal. Five of those short-term contracts listed were handed out this summer (Namestnikov, Mantha, Anthanasiou, Strome, and Domi).
The only contracts handed out past three-years this summer were to Tomas Hertl and Boone Jenner. Each player re-signing with a four-year deal.
Speaking of Hertl, he’s the one who muddies the water a little bit here with his four-year $22.5 million ($5.625 million AAV) contract. He’s 24-years-old and averages fewer goals and points than Reinhart per 82 games. He’s never scored over 46 points and scored a career-high 22 goals last season.
Reinhart on the hand has scored 47 and 50 points in the last two seasons. He also scored a career-high 25 goals last season for the Sabres.
Another thing to take note of here is that Hertl and Reinhart share the same agent in Newport Sports.
The Hertl contract had me thinking Reinhart may come in around the $5 million range on his next contract. Then Detroit Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha’s signed a new deal this week.
He re-upped at two-years $6.6 million ($3.3 million AAV). Mantha’s production is very close to Reinhart’s over the past two seasons. He also has similar per 82 game numbers as well. The 23-year-old scored a career-high 24 goals and 48 points last season for the Red Wings.
Long-Term or bridge?
With the Mantha deal thrown into the picture, perhaps we’re back down into the $4-$4.5 million range for Reinhart.
The part that makes this next deal complicated for Jason Botterill and the Sabres is determining exactly what type of player the 22-year-old is. We have a three year history of him being a 42 to 50 point player with the potential score between 20 and 25 goals.
This past season in particular really makes you question what Reinhart’s ceiling could be. He started off last season struggling with the position change to center and lost some of his confidence.
In the first 38 games of the season, he had five goals and 11 points. That’s a 24 point pace for the season, which we know he’s a better player than that.
Over the last 44 games of the season, he scored 20 goals and 39 points when he was back on the wing full time. He ended the season on a 73 point pace. Can he be a 70-plus point player over a full season?
Thus you see the dilemma the Sabres find themselves in.
Not only does it cause a debate on the money, but the term of the contract as well. If the Sabres wanted to lock Reinhart up long-term it would make sense for him to sign a deal pretty similar to what both Jonathan Drouin and Bo Horvat signed for just last summer.
They were the same age as Reinhart this year and arguably both are held in higher regard around the league. Drouin may be considered on the same level as Reinhart.
The two signed six-year, $33 million deals that carry a $5.5 million cap hit. It always costs a little more to buy unrestricted free agent years, which is why the money increases on a long-term deal. On a six-year deal, the Sabres would be buying three years of UFA status from Reinhart and it would allow him to get another big contract at 28-years-old.
A long-term contract gives the Sabres the opportunity for Vancouver native’s cap hit to be a bargain with higher production over the life of the contract. Although it’s unlikely a $5-5.5 million cap hit would make Reinhart untradeable. That risk is still there on a longer contract if he doesn’t meet expectations.
On a bridge deal, the objective is to come to terms on a two or three-year deal. The Sabres would want to avoid a four-year contract because that would make him an unrestricted free agent at 26-years-old. Whereas a two or three year deal will keep him a restricted free agent when the contract expires.
A bridge deal also allows Botterill to get a better idea of exactly what type of player Reinhart can be, but on the other hand, you run the risk of handing out a much larger long-term contract if he puts up the points over the next few years.
When you go back to the comparables a short-term contract in terms of a dollar value that makes sense is around $4-4.5 million. Reinhart is a better goal scorer than Max Domi and has a longer track record of success than Mantha. Therefore it makes sense for his AAV to come in over what those two signed for.
He’s also had more production over his career than Vlad Namestnikov who just signed a two-year $8 million ($4 million AAV) with the New York Rangers.
On the top end of the scale of a bridge deal, it could be argued he should not surpass Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli ($4.6 million cap hit) or Arizona Coyotes forward Alex Galchenyuk ($4.9 million cap hit). Both Toffoli and Galchenyuk have been more productive players over their career.
A lot of that brings the range on a bridge deal to that aforementioned $4-4.5 million window as the sweet spot.
Then on a long-term deal to buy some years of UFA status, his cap hit could fall in the range of $5-5.5 million anually.
As more contracts get signed over the next few weeks to a month, it’ll be interesting to see where players slot in as a comparable to Reinhart. This will surely be a polarizing discussion until he comes to terms on a new deal with the Sabres.