Buffalo Sabres forward Sam Reinhart was set to head to salary arbitration as a restricted free agent on Tuesday for the first time in his NHL career. However, less than 48 hours before his scheduled hearing with a league arbiter, both sides came to terms on a one-year deal worth $5.2 million.
The 24-year-old is coming off a 2019-20 season that saw him score 22 goals and register 28 assists for 50 points in 69 games played. Reinhart and was on pace to finish the year with 59 points (26+33) before the regular season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the course of the past two seasons, Reinhart has been very productive with 44 goals and 71 assists for 125 points in a full 151 games played. That production was plenty good enough to earn Reinhart a new long-term contract with the team and a nice pay day to boot.
Instead, Reinhart opted to take another short-term deal with the Sabres at a lower pay. He signed the deal knowing that the landscape of the NHL's economy and salary cap will be greatly affected heading into the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think every player in these times right now would be open to a long-term deal. Unfortunately, that's not always the case and it's not always available," Reinhart said when speaking with the Buffalo media on Thursday via a Zoom conference call. "I'm certainly comfortable playing on short-term deals, like I always have, so this is just another one."
This offseason has been a very unique one for Reinhart, who has not played a single game since the Sabres' regular season prematurely came to an end on March 12 when the NHL shut things down due to COVID-19. During these times, the winger has been back home in Vancouver, British Columbia training and trying to keep himself in check heading into the upcoming season.
"It's bizarre. It's very odd being in Vancouver here seeing the leaves change. I don't think I've seen that since I was 15-years-old," Reinhart said. "It's a little bit of a mental grind to stay in it. Luckily, I enjoy the working out process, the training process, but that's usually a couple month gig. It's not usually a full year of doing that, unfortunately. I think everyone is looking forward to the conversations in the next few weeks of trying to get this back on track, trying to get back into our cities and get on the ice with our teammates again. It's really starting now, and hopefully it's sooner or later."
While Reinhart's offseason has been focused on staying ready and preparing for next season, the Sabres have been very busy this offseason within the organization.
Back in June, the team fired general manager Jason Botterill and replaced him with Kevyn Adams while conducting no extensive search for a general manager. Along with that, the team also let go of a number of other members of the hockey operations department in sweeping organizational changes.
Reinhart said that the day the team started making those moves and putting new names in charge was a certainly a surprising one.
"It seemed sudden. It kind of shocked everyone... but that's really out of our control. It was more of a reaction when we were seeing new guys being brought into the locker room and players being brought into the organization."
As for those new players in the locker room, Adams certainly made a couple of notable additions with veterans Eric Staal and Taylor Hall joining the Sabres. Reinhart says it's very exciting to have players of their caliber joining them and wearing the Sabres crest.
"As a player, you love to see the fresh faces. The level of players brought in is exciting to see, and we're all looking forward to coming back and trying to turn things around. Seeing those guys coming in is obviously great," Reinhart said.
During his parts of six seasons with the Sabres, Reinhart has not been part of a lot of successful teams in Buffalo, missing out on the playoffs each season. He, along with Jack Eichel, have been in Buffalo full-time since the 2015-16 season, where the team put up their best year with a 35-36-11 record with 81 points in the standings.
Over the past three seasons, the team has really struggled to find any success, hovering around the basement of the NHL standings with 31st, 27th and 25th place finishes respectively.
With the recent struggles the team has experienced, Reinhart is hoping to take what he can from the positive and negative moments and build upon them to be a better team going forward.
"As you get older and you play more years, you try to use that to your advantage," Reinhart said. "With that being said, there's a lot of new faces in the locker room, and we know first hand that every year is different. Every year we've been in different positions at certain parts of the year, and it's just a matter of putting everything together. As it is us using that frustration and channeling that, it's using the new guys that have had success and experience in the league, as well."
As for the time he has put into his 400-game NHL career, Reinhart says that while he's already accomplished quite a bit in his early career, there's still plenty to prove on this Sabres squad.
"I think I've done a lot that I want to be recognized for and be here long-term, for sure. There's no question about it. Do I think I've proven everything? No, absolutely not. I don't think anyone can say that with the lack of success that we've had as a team," Reinhart said.
Going forward, there's still no word on how the landscape of the 2020-21 season is going to look in terms of the schedule or where and how teams will be playing games this season due to COVID-19. However, Reinhart feels the best thing to do is to be as prepared as possible for whatever lies ahead this upcoming season.
"I think everyone's got to prepare for that. I don't think you prepare differently. Anything could really happen. The most important thing is just being back and playing hockey whenever we're ready to do that," Reinhart said.
One thing that will be of certainty heading into next season is that Ralph Krueger is returning behind the bench as head coach of the Sabres. When asked about playing for Krueger, Reinhart had nothing but high praise for the Sabres head coach heading into his second season with the team.
"It's awesome to play under him," Reinhart said. "Just the level of honesty and the communication he has is something that any player wants to play under. I think that's a big part of why you see these players wanting to come here now. I truly believe it's because of the kind of person he is, and you know how bad players want to play for him."
You can listen to the entire conference call below: