Sam Reinhart is the Buffalo Sabres’ sole remaining restricted free agent. Though training camp is still over a month away, Sabres fans are eagerly awaiting the team’s signing of the young forward.
The question is: do the Sabres give Reinhart a bridge deal, or lock him up long-term?
Bridge deals are few and far between nowadays in the NHL; though there’s still a few being signed, the bridge deal overall seems to be dying out in the league, particularly with the continual rising of the salary cap. One of the most recent examples of a bridge deal: Anaheim’s signing of Brandon Montour to a two-year deal, just last month.
Other recent-ish examples of bridge deals: Marcus Johansson (WSH, 2013, signed two-year, $2 million AAV). When that expired, Johansson signed a one-year deal worth $3.75 million.
Alex Galchenyuk signed a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.8 million total with Montreal in 2015. His next deal, signed in 2017, had an AAV of $4.9 million.
Look at Jack Eichel – who clearly did not get a bridge deal.
His entry-level contract expired at the end of last season, and the Sabres locked him in long-term: an eight-year deal with an AAV of $10 million, good through the 2025-26 season. If he’d gotten a bridge deal, the AAV for the next few seasons might have been lower, but then the asking price beyond that could’ve likely been significantly higher.
If a team isn’t completely sold on a player, a bridge deal might sound lucrative. Give the young player a few extra years to prove that he’s “worth it,” and then go from there. But for the player, a long-term deal is almost certainly preferred. On the team’s end, a long-term deal locks a likely-top player in for years to come and helps build a solid foundation for the future.
With this, and the fact that the bridge deal is dying out in the league in general, the Sabres should sign Reinhart to a long-term contract.
Though he’s been overshadowed in some sense by Eichel ever since #9’s arrival into the league, Reinhart is still an incredibly talented forward and still only 22. What you choose to do with him in the future depends on a number of factors, including to some extent, how much you believe in his potential.
There’s been talks through GM Jason Botterill that the Sabres could consider using Reinhart in more of a center position this coming season, something they tried last season. It didn’t seem overtly successful, so Botterill’s discussion of continuing this in the future may make some scratch their heads and rightfully so.
But step back from that and look at Reinhart’s stats from this past season. He started off the season slow but really came out to play in the second half. Reinhart registered a career-high 25 goals, and totaled 50 points overall - including 39 points in the second half of the season.
This surge in offensive production came when, yes, Reinhart switched back to wing from playing center. Looking at the numbers, it’s not immediately clear why, then, Botterill wants him to go back to center this coming season.
If you’re an NHL general manager and you know you want Sam Reinhart around to help lead the Buffalo Sabres of the future, you don’t give him a two-year bridge deal and play the ‘wait and see’ method; you get serious and lock him down, long-term, and start making a plan for your team’s future.
This could also save the Sabres some money long-term, as Reinhart would likely be looking for more money two or three years down the road; if they sign him to a longer deal now, they could negotiate a number that works for both camps and brings Reinhart into the Sabres’ future for years to come.
Finally, from a fan perspective - do the fans like bridge deals? Would you rather buy a Reinhart jersey knowing he’s only signed for two years and could be gone after that? Or would you rather buy a jersey knowing that player has signed for six, seven years? (Sure, either way there’s always the chance the player gets traded, but there are only so many certainties in hockey; that’s just the sport’s nature.)
From Botterill’s words at a recent media call, it sounds like the Sabres could be waiting to see what some other arbitration deals result in before they finalize a deal with Reinhart. For a discussion of what Reinhart’s contract could look like, and some comparable recent deals, check out Die By the Blade editor Chad’s piece from mid-July.
What would you like the Sabres to do with Sam Reinhart?
The Buffalo Sabres should...
This poll is closed
Give Reinhart a bridge deal.
Sign Reinhart long-term.