Why Sam Reinhart is complicated free-agent option for Rangers

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Florida Panthers
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Falling to the Florida Panthers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final after winning the Presidents’ Trophy in the regular season, has left the New York Rangers in an interesting predicament.

They’re clearly a very talented team. You don’t just luck into leading the League with 55 wins and 114 points in the regular season, setting new franchise records in the process.

However, a failure to get past Game 6 of the conference final for the second time in three seasons and a rough showing against a powerhouse Panthers team has left the organization with some difficult questions to answer.

Certainly, there’s a glaring need at right wing. Jack Roslovic’s expected departure in free agency exacerbates the hole in the top six, and general manager Chris Drury said internal and external candidates would be considered to fill that spot.

It just so happens that this year’s free agent market could boast two outstanding options.

Sam Reinhart of the Panthers and Jake Guentzel of the Carolina Hurricanes are both due to become unrestricted free agents July 1. Adding either would be an incredibly difficult move for Drury given the Rangers current salary cap situation, but would certainly solve a lot of issues.

While Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, and Alexis Lafreniere flourished together, Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad were not able to find the same level of success with a rotating cast of partners this past season. After New York’s stars were stifled by an overbearing Florida squad, the demand for a dynamic top-line right winger has never been higher.

The Rangers have $13.7 million in projected cap space after veteran forward Barclay Goodrow was claimed off waivers by the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday. They still need to re-sign defensemen Braden Schneider and Ryan Lindgren, each of whom will be a restricted free agent. To bring them back likely will cost between $6-7 million combined for the Rangers.

New York also needs a 6th/7th defenseman and likely an inexpensive veteran center for the fourth line now that Goodrow is gone.

That doesn’t leave a lot of cash to bring in a quality top-six right wing — especially one of Reinhart or Guentzel’s pedigree — unless there’s a buyout of captain Jacob Trouba planned or a trade that frees up some more dollars.

So, a lot would still have to happen for the Rangers to have enough cap space to offer either Reinhart or Guentzel a competitive contract. That said, it’s hard to think of a better fit at right wing than Reinhart.

Related: What Devils trade for Jacob Markstrom means for Rangers

Sam Reinhart is intriguing free agent fit at right wing for Rangers

NHL: Florida Panthers at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Reinhart offers solid size (six-foot-two, 193 pounds) and a wealth of offensive talent. He’s coming off a career year, finishing second in the League with 57 goals, to go along with 94 points. It’s the first time he’s surpassed the 50-goal mark and the 90-point mark in any season.

The 28-year-old was incredibly opportunistic on the power play, leading the NHL with 27 goals on the man-advantage. The Rangers were excellent in the regular season with the League’s third best power play, but it dried up in the postseason, finishing two for their last 25 and 1-for-15 against the Panthers. Reinhart has 105 career power-play goals, so he’d help there.

Even if Reinhart never tops this season again, as it would be hard to replicate a League-leading 24.5 shooting percentage year-in and year-out, he’s still set a high bar of excellence since joining the Panthers three years ago. He scored over 30 goals in each of the seasons prior and had 82 points in the 2021-22 season.

If there’s a rub with Reinhart, it’s that he’s not as explosive at even strength. He scored fewer than half of his goals this season (25) at even strength, still a great number, but he had 32 on special teams (27 on power play, five shorthanded). He’s typically been between 15-17 even-strength goals per season in his career. Overall Reinhart has 255 goals in 696 NHL games.

His offense alone makes him a tantalizing target, and his two-way game really make him a dream fit in New York.

Reinhart finished fourth in the Selke-voting this year and top-30 in each of the two seasons prior. He’s bought into coach Paul Maurice’s system, fitting in seamlessly with Florida’s relentless forecheck. Alongside Selke Trophy-winner Aleksander Barkov, he’s helped give opposing top-lines fits this postseason.

Coach Peter Laviolette’s 1-3-1 neutral zone set-up is a bit different than the forecheck that’s run in Florida, but Reinhart’s defensive capability and aggressiveness would still be a big plus on Broadway.

Guentzel’s an excellent goal-scorer, tallying 30 in 67 games this year, but he’s nowhere close to the two-way player that Reinhart is. Guentzel charted out below average in defensive percentile this season; Reinhart ranked in the 98th percentile.

It’s tough to beat the postseason resume of Guentzel, who’s made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven of his eight NHL seasons, winning the Cup in his rookie campaign of 2017 when he led all postseason skaters in goals. The Rangers could certainly use someone with proven playoff success, particularly after a conference final when most of their stars were neutralized.

But Reinhart’s no slouch in his own right. He’s played a major role in helping the Panthers reach the Stanley Cup Final, a series they lead 3-2 after losing Game 5, 5-3 to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. In fact, he’s been a key part of Florida reaching the final round in consecutive seasons.

His nine goals are second on the team in these playoffs, trailing only Carter Verhaeghe, and he notched eight in last year’s postseason, which tied him for second on the team in that run as well. He’s made the playoffs in each of the three seasons since the offseason trade in July of 2021 that shipped him from the Buffalo Sabres to Florida.

Reinhart’s likely to command a long term deal with an AAV over $8 million. Guentzel could see even more.

Either contract would put Drury in an incredibly difficult spot next offseason. On top of Panarin ($11.6 million AAV), Adam Fox ($9 million), Zibanejad ($8.5 million), Trouba ($8 million) and Kreider ($6.5 million) all still under contract, Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller will be due for new RFA deals after next season and Igor Shesterkin could be in line to become the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL since he faces unrestricted free agency after the 2024-25 season.

Adding another major contract to the mix certainly won’t make that offseason any easier. However, this next year or two might be the best chance for the Rangers to win a Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994.

If you look at things from a purely “win-now” perspective, adding a right winger like Reinhart could be just what the Blueshirts need to finally push them over the top and hoist the Cup.

It’s near-sighted, an unlikely outcome, a dream scenario — whatever you want to call it. But it could theoretically be done, and if you’re talking major upgrades, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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