Sam Reinhart came to town without a contract and was on the ice skating with his Buffalo Sabres teammates the day after Labor Day. It was a good-faith sign on his part.
Reinhart left town very disappointed a few days later with no deal. Several weeks of negotiation proved fruitless, making for one long flight home. He had no idea when he'd be back and missing the start of the season seemed like a real possibility.
Vancouver in September is lovely. But it was the last place Reinhart wanted to be.
He skated with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds hoping to hear good news. He said his surliness for a couple of days was grating on the nerves of his father, former NHL defenseman Paul Reinhart.
Reinhart missed the Sabres' first three days of practice. And their preseason opener Monday in Columbus. He watched Tuesday's home win over Pittsburgh on television while scouring his computer for flights back to Western New York because he knew the news was getting good.
"It wasn't easy. I think my Dad is probably the happiest guy to get me out of the house again," a smiling Reinhart said Thursday in KeyBank Center. "I was pretty miserable for a couple days but I was able to stay on the ice, train back in Vancouver. That's why I went home. It was the easiest way for me to be ready when I did get the opportunity to come back."
Reinhart signed his two-year, $7.3 million deal with the Sabres on Wednesday and was back on the ice Thursday in HarborCenter. It's uncertain if he'll play in this weekend's home-and-home series with Toronto that opens Friday night in Scotiabank Arena, but what is clear is that both sides are relieved he's returned to practice.
"Ideally you're always getting it done for the start of training camp," said General Manager Jason Botterill. "But the fact we kept the dialogue going, there was no boycott from either side ... was probably the reason we came to a deal now versus having to wait until the start of the season. Both sides realized the importance of a young player being part of training camp with the amount of changes we had."
Reinhart skated Thursday on a line with Patrik Berglund and Evan Rodrigues. Jason Pominville was ostensibly holding Reinhart's place on the top line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.
"Today was a great practice for me to come back in," Reinhart said. "It wasn't crazy but the pace was up. It felt comfortable. Obviously it's going to take a day or two but I'm happy how it went and how I feel out there."
"I thought he looked great, right up to speed," said coach Phil Housley. "I understand coming off signing a new deal you're going to have that adrenaline. It's the second and third day that we're looking at for him to see where he is. But I was really pleased with his pace and execution and we'll see where he carries on."
Housley, of course, spent 20 years as a player in the NHL so he understands when contract situations crop up. Now he's on the other side, as a coach who wanted those things taken care of so he can have a full team at his disposal.
"It's hard because you do want everybody here but I understand the business as well," Housley said. "You can't control those situations. You try to focus on the players that are here. We've had a really good, upbeat, uptempo camp up to this point. So it's just great to have him back and be a part of the team."
Reinhart, 22, said he learned from the situation. He knows he got some rewards from last year's 25-goal season and that the Sabres are telling him to produce even more so he gets paid when it's time to talk contract again in 2020.
"It was the first time I've really had to experience that business side of it," he said. "At the end of the day I'm a hockey player and this is where I want to be. It's not an easy situation but I accept it and know that's a part of it. I"m just thrilled to be back around the guys. Any time they're all here and you're not, it's not an easy situation mentally to be in."
"Both sides understand that at the end of the day, we all wanted Sam to be part of our group here," said Botterill. "Sometimes it takes a little longer to go through the entire process. But from Day One, it's been evident Sam wants to be part of our solution here in Buffalo. Today was a great day to see him back on the ice."