With the filing numbers due today in the arbitration case between the Buffalo Sabres and forward Sam Reinhart, the two sides instead have come to terms on an extension. However, the new deal looks more like one that might have been rewarded by an arbitrator anyhow than the long-term agreement many expected. The Sabres have announced a one-year, $5.2MM deal with their young forward. Reinhart will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights again next summer.
Reinhart, 24, has seemingly settled for a one-year deal rather than pursue a long-term contract that almost certainly would have resulted in a higher AAV. The team likely pushed for this short-term resolution, perhaps still skeptical about Reinhart’s long-term value. There is no doubting that the 2014 second overall pick is at least a reliable top-six forward that any NHL team would be lucky to have. Reinhart has not missed a game in the past three seasons and has only missed six total since becoming a full-time player in 2015-16. In his five pro seasons, Reinhart has at least 42 points each year, including four 20+ goal seasons and a career high 65 points in 2018-19. While these are impressive numbers, Reinhart’s 82-game pace this past season would have resulted in a decline to 59 points and still would have kept him from cracking 30 goals. The Sabres may simply want to wait one more year, and risk the price tag on Reinhart going up considerably, to see if that 65-point campaign was an outlier or what’s to be expected for years to come.
Should Reinhart return to 60+ point production in 2020-21, he will be looking at a significant raise in the off-season. Now just one year away from unrestricted free agency when this contract expires, the Sabres will be buying up almost entirely UFA years when they re-sign Reinhart to a multi-year deal. What might the market value be for a soon-to-be 25-year-old with multiple 60+ point seasons on his resume who regularly scores 20+ goals and is a possession leader for his team? Easily over $7MM per year.
Another reason why the Sabres might not have wanted to jump on a long-term deal worth $6-7MM annually this off-season is their current salary cap situation. While Buffalo is not quite in cap trouble (see the Taylor Hall contract), their flexibility is starting to run out. After signing Reinhart, CapFriendly projects the Sabres to have just over $9MM in cap space with just 19 players on the current roster. While arbitration was avoided with Reinhart, the club still has a pair of major cases to be settled. Projected starting goaltender Linus Ullmark is scheduled for a hearing on Monday, with the salary range on an award set at $1.8-$4.1MM and a resolution likely to fall somewhere in that area as well. Early next month, they also have a case with Victor Olofsson on the docket. The 25-year-old forward was an older rookie this past season, but his 42 points in 54 games was impressive all the same. A player who outscored Reinhart on an 82-game pace (64 points) in his first NHL season is likely to command a sizeable salary as well. With the result of those two cases still unknown, first-round prospect Casey Mittelstadt in need of a new deal as well, an a couple of additional roster spots still needing to be filled, the Sabres don’t have as much cap space as it may seem and keeping the salary down on Reinhart may have prevented the team from having to make some difficult roster decisions to get under the cap this season.