SUNRISE, Fla. – August is typically the month that the NHL goes on summer vacation.
The draft, free agency, big trades…all that usually gets wrapped up by the third week of July.
The Florida Panthers, however, still had a glaring piece of unfinished business to take care of.
The Panthers made a massive splash at the NHL Draft, acquiring elite scoring forward Sam Renihart from the Buffalo Sabres.
Both Reinhart and the Panthers weren’t shy about how pleased they were with the deal, though there was one glaring element that still needed to be resolved.
Reinhart, you see, was a restricted free agent, meaning he still needed to sign a new contract before he could officially lace up his skates and put on a Panthers sweater.
No big deal though, as both Reinhart and Florida General Manager Bill Zito expressed nothing but eagerness and positivity toward getting a deal done.
It may have taken a little longer than some expected, but sometimes during the league’s down time, the process can get drawn out. People take vacations with their families, unplug from the world, whatever.
The bottom line is, 18 days after making the trade, Zito and the Panthers signed Reinhart to a multi-year deal.
“It feels great just to have it behind us,” Reinhart said Thursday from his offseason home in Vancouver. “I can focus on camp now and just get ready for the start.”
Local 10 News learned that that the three-year contract is worth a total of $19.5 million, which has an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $6.5 million.
For a player of Reinhart’s caliber, that seems like a very good deal both sides should be happy with.
Reinhart gets the highest yearly salary of his NHL career, and the Panthers get a potential top line forward at well below top line value.
The metaphorical icing on the cake? As happy as Reinhart seemed with the contract, the 25-year-old also expressed optimism that his career in South Florida would last a lot longer than the length of his new deal.
“I don’t think I can stress enough that both parties are confident this is going to work out and ultimately be something longer than that,” Reinhart said of his contract. “That’s the plan for both of us.”
It’s a sentiment that has been repeated by Zito, who has accumulated a pretty spectacular stable of forwards during his 11 months in South Florida. The players that Zito and his staff added to the mix have proven to be a perfect compliment to the talent he inherited, headlined by budding superstars Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov, the Panthers’ captain.
“Sam is a gifted and versatile talent that will play a key role for our team in the coming seasons,” Zito said in a statement released by the team. “One of several players to commit to our organization with a multi-year contract this offseason, we are excited to see how these players come together and continue to build a foundation for success in South Florida.”
Indeed, Reinhart joined fellow talented forwards Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair in signing new deals with the Cats this summer, and Barkov is expected to sign a long-term extension with Florida in the coming weeks.
On paper, the potential success in South Florida seems strikingly sustainable.
Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville will have his hands full shaping Florida’s lineup, but the team’s top six forwards are likely to be some combination of Barkov, Huberdeau, Verhaeghe, Reinhart, Bennett and Duclair, though don’t sleep on guys like Owen Tippett and Frank Vatrano either.
Bottom line…the Cats are stacked, like never before.
For Reinhart, after all those years on basement-dwelling Buffalo squads, joining the playoff-primed Panthers must feel like the equivalent of moving out of a Motel Six and into a suite at The Fontainebleau.
“It exciting, and has that extra level of motivation, knowing the group of guys they have, knowing the talent level that’s there, and what they’re setting up to do,” Reinhart said. “It’s a great feeling, and really refreshing coming into that mindset, and I can’t wait to do my part and fit into what they’ve already been building, to hopefully help put us over the top.”
There is no doubt that Reinhart has got to be experiencing a level of enthusiasm that has eluded him during his NHL career to this point.
Despite playing seven seasons and 454 games in the best hockey league in the world, Reinhart has yet to taste any action during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s no secret that the Sabres have been one of the league’s most downtrodden teams for well over a decade, and while the Panthers have their own problems with making the playoffs over the years, Florida seems to have done what Buffalo has yet to do; pull itself out of the muck and start building a consistent winner.
Now with the Panthers, Reinhart joins a team that will absolutely be among those expected to not only qualify for the postseason, but to also compete for a Stanley Cup.
To call that uncharted territory for Reinhart would be a gross understatement.
“Absolutely it’s something you think about, and you want to have that mentality, right?” he said when asked about the prospect of finally playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “It’s going to be exciting.
“I think there’s a lot of the same guys at that are coming back to this team that have already really starting to build something, so I think it’s (about) starting training camp focused on me and maybe some of the newer guys coming in and finding out quick where we fit in and what we can do to push this thing over the top. I’m really excited about that opportunity.”
NEW TEAM, NEW NUMBER
Long before Reinhart played his first NHL game in Buffalo, he has worn jersey No. 23.
He wore it with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, he wore it during his brief stop with the American League’s Rochester Americans and he wore it for Team Canada during his World Junior and World Championship days.
He will not, however, wear it for the Panthers.
Last season, No. 23 was worn in Florida by Carter Verhaeghe, and Reinhart confirmed Thursday that would not change with his arrival on the Panthers.
While he didn’t want to give away too much about his new digits (or digit, I suppose), Reinhart did indicate that he has come to a decision.
“Yeah, I think I’m pretty set on a number,” he said.
While I have no intention on trying to guess what Reinhart’s new jersey number will be, I would wager that we’ll find out sooner rather than later.
With training camp coming up next month, I’d imagine the team would want to maximize new jersey and merchandise sales as much as possible, considering the amount of excitement surrounding the Panthers heading into the season.