A busy day for General Manager Kevyn Adams and the Buffalo Sabres seemed to be complete late Friday night.
The media was gathered on the floor of KeyBank Center awaiting a press conference in which Adams was expected to discuss the trade that sent Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia and the Sabres' selection of two first-round draft choices, most notably defenseman Owen Power with the No. 1 pick.
The NHL draft begins at 8 p.m. Friday on ESPN, and the Buffalo Sabres have the first pick overall. Get caught up with our team coverage leadin…
Then came the blockbuster trade everyone anticipated. Or so we thought.
Reports surfaced that Sam Reinhart, the Sabres' leading goal scorer from last season and the No. 2 pick in the 2014 draft, had been traded to the Florida Panthers. The return was not known and Adams declined to comment when the press conference began.
It wasn't until Saturday morning that the deal became official: Reinhart is headed to the Sabres' Atlantic Division rival in exchange for goalie prospect Devon Levi and a 2022 first-round draft choice.
According to TSN's Pierre LeBrun, the draft pick includes lottery protection, meaning it slides to 2023 if the Panthers are awarded a top 10 draft choice in 2022.
"Sam has established himself as one of the best playmaking scorers in the league, and we are thrilled to be able to add him to our Panthers lineup," Panthers General Manager Bill Zito said in a press release. "His competitiveness and hunger to succeed will fit seamlessly with the culture we are building here in South Florida."
Adams will address the media at the conclusion of the NHL Draft.
Reinhart, 25, emerged as a dynamic offensive threat during his six seasons in Buffalo, capped by a remarkable 2020-21 season in which he matched his career-high in goals (25) despite appearing in 54 games during this Covid-19 shortened season. His 40 points also led the Sabres.
Levi, 19, was a seventh-round selection of the Panthers in October 2020 and an afterthought in an organization that has top goalie prospect Spencer Knight. However, Levi had an outstanding performance at the IIHF World Junior Championship for Team Canada, totaling a .964 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average in seven games to help his team capture a silver medal. Levi broke a rib during the tournament, an injury that prevented him from playing any games as a freshman for Northeastern University.
Levi was also named the CJHL Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player, and the CCHL Most Valuable Player in 2019-20. He led all CCHL goalies with a .941 save percentage for the Carleton Place Canadians.
The Sabres wanted to add a goalie prospect to the prospect pipeline, strengthening an organization depth chart that also includes Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Erik Portillo.
Zito revealed during an interview in January that he drafted Levi on the advice of former NHL goalie Roberto Luongo, who heads the Panthers' department that focuses on the drafting and development of goaltenders.
Trade interest for Reinhart was rampant, as he showed last season that he’s capable of playing center at a high level. Reinhart played mostly right wing since his first full year in the NHL in 2015-16.
When the Sabres were well out of the playoff race, and top-line center Jack Eichel was out for the season with a herniated disk in his neck, Reinhart did not relent. Reinhart had 16 goals and 23 points in 33 games with Eichel out, averaging 19:17 of ice time during that span.
Reinhart finished the season with 40 points and a minus-28 rating while averaging 19:32 of ice time. He showed the potential of a franchise cornerstone. Instead, Reinhart is on his way out after declining to tell reporters in May if he wished to return to Buffalo next season.
The Sabres never signed Reinhart to the type of long-term contract the franchise gave to Eichel or Jeff Skinner, who has totaled 21 goals since signing an eight-year, $72 million contract in June 2019. Instead, Reinhart accepted a two-year contract with a $3.65 million average annual value in September 2018 and re-signed with Buffalo as a restricted free agent in October, inking a one-year, $5.2 million contract.
Power is the Sabres’ presumed selection with the first overall pick, but it’s uncertain where he will play this season.
Unlike unrestricted free agents, Reinhart is not free to sign elsewhere when the market opens July 28. However, he’s scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency next summer and there’s no indication that he would have been willing to remain in Buffalo long-term, especially with the trade speculation surrounding his teammate and close friend, Eichel.
Reinhart could have received a $5.2 million qualifying offer from the Sabres, according to CapFriendly.com, but he would not be obligated to sign the contract.
Though Reinhart needed some time to develop into a reliable two-way forward, he's been a consistent scoring threat since arriving in the NHL. He has scored at least 22 goals in five of his six seasons, including 25 in 2017-18 and last season.
Across six full seasons in Buffalo, Reinhart totaled 133 goals and 295 points in 454 games.
Reinhart's departure is the latest step in the Sabres' rebuild, which included the departure of Ristolainen on Friday afternoon. In the deal, Buffalo acquired defenseman Robert Hagg, a 26-year-old with one season remaining on a contract that counts $1.6 million against the salary cap.
The Sabres also used the draft choice from the Ristolainen deal to select Swedish winger Isak Rosen, an 18-year-old who scored seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Championship.
The hockey world now waits for Adams to move on from Jack Eichel, the 24-year-old face of the franchise who said in May that there was a disconnect between he and the Sabres about how to treat the herniated disk in his neck.
With Reinhart gone, and Eichel likely next, Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt are expected to be the Sabres' top centermen. Other options include Cody Eakin, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Asplund and Arttu Ruotsalainen.