Trading Reinhart would not be a sharp move

October 20, 2017

Trading players who were taken at the top of the draft generally doesn’t work out very well.

Phil Kessel just won his second Stanley Cup. James Van Riemsdyk had 62 points last season. Kyle Turris has topped 55 points three times since being acquired by the Senators. Evander Kane has 33 goals in his last 77 games with the Sabres. Tyler Seguin is a superstar. Taylor Hall has the Devils improving. Nino Niederreiter has become a solid two-way winger. Ryan Johansen’s team made the Cup Final.

And those are just top-five picks from 2006 to 2010 who were moved.

Teams have a tendency to set expectations so high for top draft picks that they lack patience and miss the forest through the trees. Just because a player doesn’t change the course of your franchise doesn’t mean that he can’t make a positive impact.

Enter: Sam Reinhart.

It was quite clear heading into the 2014 NHL draft that there wasn’t a generational player coming out. So far, it appears No. 3 overall pick Leon Draisaitl is the best of the class, but he spent the majority of his minutes last year playing with Connor McDavid. Top pick Aaron Ekblad has had some ups – winning the Calder Trophy – and some downs – like only producing 21 points in 68 games last year. Sam Bennett hasn’t been much more than a third-liner.

The book is hardly written on any of them yet. And the Sabres haven’t exactly set up anyone to succeed over the last two years. So it’s probably a bad plan to trade Reinhart at this point in his career unless the return is massive.

Elliotte Friedman reported that teams have begun calling on Reinhart. GM Jason Botterill isn’t in a position to hang up the phone on anyone, but the Sabres would be selling low on a very talented player.

When Reinhart was assigned to the Rochester Amerks at the end of the 2014 season, it took him one game against veteran professional hockey players to show he was special.

On one particular play, his outstanding hockey IQ was on display. The Amerks’ opponent flipped the puck aimlessly into the middle of ice to make a change. Reinhart spotted Phil Varone hustling toward the puck, so Reinhart back-hand tapped it into an open zone on the ice, allowing Varone to pick it up in full stride and head in 1-on-1 with the goalie.

In the locker room, Reinhart described the goal as if he was watching it on tape, pointing out where defenders were looking when he made the pass. It was slow motion to him.

In the NHL, he’s shown plenty of flashes of that same high-end vision and IQ along with playmaking and the ability to score. Certainly seasons of 42 and 47 points don’t scream “franchise player,” neither does two goals in seven games so far this season, but a little deeper look reveals that Reinhart’s been doing a pretty good job within his circumstances.

For starters: He’s consistently made teammates better. Last season, when Jack Eichel and Reinhart were on the ice together, the Sabres took 51.1% of the total shots on goal. When Eichel played without Reinhart, that number dropped to 42.3%. That’s the difference between having an edge to getting crushed.

The Sabres created far more scoring chances with Eichel-Reinhart than when Eichel played with anyone else. According to Natural Stat Trick, the tandem of top picks took 52.2% of the total High Danger chances when sharing the ice, but only 35.9% when Eichel was away from Reinhart. On average over his career, Reinhart has boosted teammates’ Corsi Percentage by 4.4%.

Makes sense that a smart playmaker would make people better by creating more shots and getting pucks headed the right way in the D-zone.

Now let’s put those point totals in context.

Reinhart wasn’t a huge goal scorer last year, but he led the Sabres in First Assist rate at even strength. At 0.78 per 60, he was 0.15 ahead of Eichel. In general, First Assists are much more predictable from year-to-year than Second Assists.

Natural Stat Trick has a stat called “Rebounds Created.” You can figure out what that means. And if you guessed Reinhart led the team at 5-on-5 last year, you’d be correct.

Do you really want to trade a 22-year-old forward who was the top setup man at even strength last season?

He hasn’t scored much so far this season, but that appears to be fluky. Reinhart has an outstanding 58.1% Corsi Percentage. So the Sabres are getting shots with him on the ice, but they haven’t gone in the net yet. They will.

You can understand why he’s ended up in the rumors. Unless Reinhart gets a lot better in the faceoff circle, he can’t play center (unless someone else takes the faceoffs for him, then switches). He’s not tough. He’s not fast. He’s not a spit-fire-and-flames leader.

Reinhart is simply a smart player who makes players better around him – especially Eichel.

Before committing to a trade, the Sabres should stick Eichel and Reinhart together for a half season. If they get a little help from an improved defense and the team adapts to its new coach, the Sabres could find they’ve got a pair that can play together for years and years like the Sedins or Bergeron and Marchand etc.

Certainly Reinhart’s contract plays into the equation. It might be difficult to re-sign Evander Kane and keep Reinhart around. Investing in the younger player with a more diverse skill set is probably the better play than a one-dimensional player whose new contract would likely take him past age 30.

Bottom line: The Sabres should at least wait until they have a bigger sample size before taking phone calls on Reinhart.

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Matthew Coller
About Matthew Coller

Matthew Coller is a contributor to The Buffalo Star and the Minnesota Vikings reporter for 1500ESPN. He also writes about hockey for ESPN Insider. He was doing analytics when analytics wasn't cool.

Browse more articles by Matthew Coller.

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2 Comments on "Trading Reinhart would not be a sharp move"

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You’re right on with this. I don’t think Botts is that foolish


This is why it’s better to look at the entire picture than just what his plus/minus stats are. The old school media just loves their plus/minus and faceoff stats. Great article, Matthew.

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