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Mike Harrington: Benching of Sam Reinhart was the right call (and the only call)

Good for Dan Bylsma, good for Tim Murray.

As for Sam Reinhart? Tough break. Learn from it, kid.

Murray is a no-nonsense general manager who's constantly evaluating his team. He makes suggestions to his coaches every day on a variety of topics. He made another one Sunday about the team's discipline policies and Reinhart got ensnared in it Tuesday in Columbus.

The 21-year-old was late to a meeting in the team hotel in the Ohio capital by about five minutes Tuesday morning. Doesn't sound like much but the coach and GM had to take a stand after revising the team rules just the day before. For being late to report times for practices, meetings or team stretching, players had previously sat a period or lost ice time on special teams (like Jack Eichel did in the loss here to Carolina just before Christmas). Now the penalty was to sit for a full game.

"We've had a couple instances, like the one early in the year," Murray told The News Wednesday. "But what if a guy is not on special teams, what if he's a fourth-liner who doesn't kill penalties or get on the power play? What does he miss? He plays six minutes a night and still gets his six minutes? It had to be clear. The clearer things can be, the better it is and the easier they can function.

"For some reason, it got caught in the back of my brain the last few weeks and the more I thought about it the more I felt it had to be changed. It wasn't out of any frustration with the coaches at all. They've had their rules. I'm just a black and white guy and you have to be black and white with players so we decided to go forward."

Murray and the coaching staff agreed to make the change Sunday and informed the players Monday. When Reinhart was late Tuesday, Bylsma called the GM with the news and the decision was made that Reinhart had to sit. As it had to be.

What credibility would the GM and coach have in the dressing room to announce a new rule and then not enforce it 24 hours later just because it was with one of the top draft picks?

Sam Reinhart benched entire game for violating Sabres policy

"To me it's unfortunate that anybody that broke the rule the first time after it gets changed at that point," Murray said. "To have it be a second-year player like Sam, he might have been the last guy. If I had made public we tweaked the team rule and who is the last guy I think would break it, he might have been the guy I would have brought up. I would have said, 'It won't be Sam.' But it was and he feels awful about it. Not that he needs lessons, but all young players need them and to learn them and maybe this will be a great lesson for the rest of his career."

Social media, again proving it's no focus group, is in a lather about why Bylsma and, by extension, Murray chose to park Reinhart on the bench rather than make him a healthy scratch. As if they were embarrassing poor little Sammy. Too many hockey parent types out there for my tastes. He does the crime, he does the time.

And the fact of the matter is the Sabres had no choice.

The league's collective bargaining agreement requires teams to dress 18 skaters and two goaltenders "except in case of emergency" for every game. This was obviously no emergency. If Murray had opted to play short ā€“ which simply is not done ā€“ the Sabres would have faced a heavy fine. League officials were understandably concerned about competitive balance, with Columbus fighting for the Metropolitan Division title and the Presidents' Trophy.

And there was the injury factor. Tampa Bay lost three centers in a game a couple of weeks ago. The Sabres were already down one forward with Kyle Okposo ill and Reinhart benched, and would have been really short with an injury during the game. The league's point was that Reinhart could be available if dressed, even though the Sabres were going to sit him anyway.

And there was no way to make a call-up from Rochester either. Okposo's illness didn't present itself until 2:15 in the afternoon, less than five hours before faceoff. No flights could make it to Columbus before the start of the game and a drive would have been in the six-hour range. Murray confirmed the Sabres do have one recall left, presumably being held to give No. 1 draft pick Alex Nylander a couple of NHL games before the season ends. But there was simply no time to make it.

Lost in all the Reinhart chatter was the way the Sabres played on the road against a Presidents' Trophy-caliber team. Without Reinhart, Okposo or the suspended Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo had a 42-29 advantage in shots on goal and probably deserved a better fate, were it not for the strong goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky.

The team played like it wasn't mad at its coach or its GM one iota, a fact captain Brian Gionta reaffirmed during his postgame meeting with reporters Tuesday.

"The disappointing part is our guys played really, really hard," Murray said. "They knew they were short and they agreed with the decision. Not out of spite at Sam at all. Quite the opposite, they felt for him."

Team discipline is common in pro sports. The Sabres scratched Evander Kane last year for a game in Ottawa when he overslept following a weekend of frivolity at the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz scratched Alex Ovechkin, of all people, for sleeping through a morning skate in 2015.

If the Capitals can scratch the Great Eight, the Sabres can scratch a 21-year-old like Reinhart in his second year who could use a reminder about being a professional.

The team was off Wednesday and Reinhart will undoubtedly answer for his indiscretion Thursday. He would be wise to simply stand up and admit his mistake.

Reinhart has 46 points this season (up from last year's 42) as his goal total has dropped from 23 to 17. He needs to be better if he wants to come close to justifying that No. 2 overall draft pick. Of note this season is that he doesn't seem to be staying after practice anywhere near as much as he did last year to work with Ryan O'Reilly; and that he's become a front-running player, feeding off momentum when the team is doing well and not doing much to help lift the club out of its struggles.

Reinhart has played in 43 losses this season. In those games, he has just five goals, 15 points and a minus-24 rating. Overall, he has just two goals in his last 12 games. Ugly numbers indeed.

Maybe this can be a seminal moment for Reinhart. And if Bylsma and Murray feel they've been running too loose a ship and the inmates have been running the SS Sabre, then this can be a message for this year and going forward too.

Sam Reinhart benched entire game for violating Sabres policy

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