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Mike Harrington: Talks on Reinhart contract continue with other deals adding intrigue

In the last couple of weeks, Sam Reinhart might have picked up a pair of new best friends in the NHL he probably never knew he would have.

Elias Lindholm and Jason Zucker haven't meant much to Reinhart's career and have had no impact on the fortunes of the Buffalo Sabres in recent years.

Until now.

Reinhart, 23, is the Sabres' lone remaining unsigned restricted free agent. There's no arbitration hearing scheduled, no serious deadline in the works. The Sabres extended their qualifying offer to him but Reinhart certainly isn't playing the 2018-19 season on a one-year deal for just under $1 million, nor does the team expect him to.

The sides are working on a bigger deal, more term and more dollars. But as you look around the NHL, other deals that arise in other cities give pause that Reinhart is going to have a case to get more dollars and probably more term than you would have initially thought when the season ended.

Zucker, 26, signed a six-year, $27.5 million deal Wednesday with Minnesota, capitalizing on his career-high totals of 33 goals and 31 assists last year.

Lindholm, 23, got a six-year, $29.1 million deal from Calgary earlier this month after being acquired in the Flames' big trade with Carolina that featured a swap of defensemen Noah Hanifin and Dougie Hamilton. Lindholm's career highs for a season are 17 goals and 45 points.

Zucker has 97 goals and 172 points in 330 NHL games. In 374 games, Lindholm has 64 goals and 188 points.

Sabres' Reinhart embraces role he never envisioned

Reinhart, meanwhile, has played 249 games for the Sabres, compiling 65 goals and 140 points. And he's coming off career highs of 25 goals and 50 points last season. When you compare career averages of the three players, it's pretty interesting.

  • Zucker: 0.29 goals per game, 0.52 points per game.
  • Lindholm: 0.17 gpg, 0.50 ppg.
  • Reinhart: 0.26 gpg, 0.56 ppg.

As the calendar approaches August, things notoriously get quiet in the hockey world. No different here, although it's known dialogue continues on Reinhart.

"I don’t view it as a difficult situation at all," General Manager Jason Botterill said during draft weekend in Dallas. "Hopefully, we’ll look at some different structures in the upcoming weeks and get something done."

An email by The Buffalo News to Reinhart's agent, Craig Oster, was not returned.

The Sabres are far from alone in having a key young player spending the summer looking for bigger bucks on a long-term deal. The Toronto Maple Leafs are doing a similar dance with William Nylander, coming off a 20-goal, 60-point season. Likewise for Detroit with Dylan Larkin, who rang up a career-high 63 points. On defense, there's money to be made for young RFAs such as Hanifin, Shea Theodore (Vegas) and Darnell Nurse (Edmonton).

Buffalo is likely more interested in a shorter bridge deal for Reinhart. That's what Detroit worked out with 23-year-olds Andreas Athanasiou (two years, $6 million) and Anthony Mantha (two years, $6.6 million), and the Rangers did with Jimmy Vesey (two years, $4.55 million).

Vesey, 25, has 33 goals and 22 assists in 159 NHL games but has hardly made the kind of impact on the scoresheet befitting the chaos that surrounded him in the summer of 2016. Teams battled for the college free agent's services after the Harvard product nixed Nashville and didn't sign with the Sabres after Buffalo traded a draft pick to the Predators for his rights.

Mantha is coming off a 24-goal, 48-point season that marked his career highs to date. He has 43 goals and 44 assists in 150 games. Athanasiou has played 172 games, compiling 43 goals and 33 assists.

Reminding that Reinhart is at 0.26 goals per game and 0.56 points per game for his career, Vesey is at 0.21/0.35, Mantha is at 0.29/0.58 and Athanasiou is at 0.25/0.44.

Reinhart and Larkin are interesting cases to watch as both came out of the 2014 draft. At this point in their careers, they're tied for fourth in that draft in career points with 140 (Larkin doing that in 242 games, Reinhart in 249). Reinhart leads in goals (65-56) while Larkin has more assists (84-75).

Larkin, however, is a center who is a face-of-the-franchise player and looking to get paid as such. Reinhart, obviously, is down the Buffalo pecking order behind Jack Eichel and his contract has to be done with the need to pay Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin within the next three years as well. In addition, Reinhart has spent most of his career on the wing and not in the middle.

What kind of player Reinhart is and will be is where things get dicey for the Sabres.

Sabres agree to terms with C.J. Smith; Sam Reinhart is last of restricted free agents

Reinhart, remember, scored 20 of his 25 goals after Jan. 1 last season and had 37 points in his final 38 games. He was tied for 12th in the league in goals in the 2018 portion of the schedule and tied for 35th in points in that stretch.

Of course, there's the issue of the 2017 portion of the schedule: He played 38 games but had just five goals and 11 points.

Reinhart, naturally, is betting on his second half as being the foreshadowing for his future. The Sabres would love that to be true but have to be prudent about the fact those points were compiled in low-pressure games with the team far out of the playoff race.

One good point is the salary cap really is no issue for the Sabres right now. Reinhart is their lone unsigned player and they have more than $12 million in cap space according to Capfriendly.com. That figure accounts for 21 players and you can drop it to about $11.3 million if you add defenseman Casey Nelson – who needs waivers to return to Rochester.

Nelson and Reinhart would give Buffalo its full complement of 23 players.

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