Miami Herald (Sunday)

Reinhart hopes big looming payday is with Panthers

- BY JORDAN MCPHERSON jmcpherson@miamiheral­ Jordan McPherson: 305-376-2129, @J_McPherson1­126

Explaining Sam Reinhart’s breakout performanc­e this season generally comes down to one basic task.

“Just give him the puck,” defenseman Dmitry Kulikov said.

Reinhart usually takes care of the rest after that. The Florida Panthers forward has been one of the NHL’s most lethal shooters this season. It resulted in him being named an All-Star for the first time in his 10-year NHL career. It resulted in him already shattering so many personal records and having a chance to do the same to a slew of Panthers franchise records with more than 30 regular-season games left.

It also has Reinhart in line for a big payday once the season ends. Reinhart, 28, is in the final year of his three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Florida Panthers and is eligible to be a free agent for the first time in his NHL career at the end of the season.

Reinhart wants to stay in Florida. He said as much before the season began and reiterated that point Thursday at the NHL’s All-Star media day in Toronto. The Panthers want him to stay, too.

Talks have been ongoing although the sides are not at the finish line yet, and Reinhart said he is fine with that. While getting a long-term deal locked in would be great, he’s not letting contract talks deter from the Panthers’ ultimate goal: making another run for the Stanley Cup. Florida is in prime position to do that, entering the All-Star

Break with a 31-14-4 record — the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference behind only the Boston Bruins.

“We both know where each other stands, we both know we want to get something done and we’re both comfortabl­e with how it’s going,” Reinhart said. “It’s not distractin­g me by any means. I think when you’re trying to build something like we’re trying to in Florida, some things take time.”


Reinhart understand­s the concept of things taking time to work themselves out.

For most of Reinhart’s career, it has taken him time to heat up before becoming a force by the end of the season.

Just look at his first two seasons with the Panthers after being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

In the 2021-22 season, he had just three goals through his first 19 games before finishing the season with 33 goals and 82 points.

Last season, Reinhart didn’t score his first goal until Game 13. By the time the 82-game regular season ended, he had 31 goals — and then another eight during the Panthers’ playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final where they lost in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights.

This season? There was no waiting. After the Panthers were shut out in their season opener against the Minnesota Wild, Reinhart scored seven goals over the next five games. He hasn’t stopped since.

His 37 goals this season, already a career-high, are second in the NHL only to Auston Matthews (40).

His 20 power-play goals (a Panthers’ single-season franchise record) lead the league. His nine gamewinnin­g goals — including two overtime winners — are tied with the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson for the league lead.

“He’s always there in the crucial moments in the game,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve seen play hockey.”

He’s scoring on 27.6 percent of his shots on goal, by far the highest of 39 players with at least 20 goals. Vancouver’s Brock Boeser is second with 30 goals on a 22.4-percent efficiency. Vancouver’s J.T. Miller (21 goals, 21 percent), Matthews (40 goals, 20.2 percent) and Dallas’ Roope Hintz (22 goals, 20.2 percent) are the only others above 20 percent.

“You have the confidence when things start going well, and it’s easy to build off of it,” Reinhart said “I have more of an attack mentality. When you’re feeling confident and things are going well, you want the puck.”

In addition to the franchise record for powerplay goals, Reinhart already has the Panthers’ single-season marks for consecutiv­e games with a goal (eight) and consecutiv­e games with a special-teams goal (eight — also an NHL record). His 24 special-teams goals are tied for the Panthers’ franchise record.

“Nothing surprises me anymore with him. He’s the real deal. He’s been playing amazing,” teammate and star winger Matthew Tkachuk said.

And there are still a lot of franchise milestones within Reinhart’s grasp. Among them:

Total goals (Reinhart has 37; the franchise record is 59 by Pavel Bure in the 2000-01 season)

Multigoal games (Reinhart has seven; the franchise record is 12, done twice by Bure — first in the 1999-2000 season and then again in the 2000-01 season)

Short-handed goals (Reinhart has four; the franchise record is six by Tom Fitzgerald in the 1995-96 season)

Game-winning goals


(Reinhart has nine; the franchise record is 14 by Bure in the 1999-2000 season).

“He’s always had a great shot and he has a great one-timer,” said winger Evan Rodrigues, who played parts of five seasons with Reinhart in Buffalo before reuniting with him this season with the Panthers. “He has an ability to score in different ways all over the ice, and he’s just such a smart player. He’s always finding open areas . ... He’s been on fire.”


And Reinhart’s offensive success is coming without him sacrificin­g his defensive game.

In fact, Reinhart’s prowess on the other end of the ice has been arguably the best of his NHL career.

In the 633 minutes that Reinhart has been on the ice during 5-on-5 play, the Panthers have given up just 20 goals. That’s tied with the Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopetar, Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele and Mason Appleton, and Detroit Red Wings’ Michael Rasmussen for the fewest in the NHL among 103 forwards who have played at least 630 minutes of 5-on-5 action so far this season.

“He protects the puck really well,” said Rodrigues, who has spent most of the season on a line with Reinhart and Barkov. “It’s something that Barky and him are both elite at and I think it’s why it makes our line so good. We wear teams down just by hanging onto pucks in the O-zone. Our chances don’t come off the rush as much as they do from O-zone cycling. They’re both elite at it.”

Florida has also controlled 58.73 percent of shot attempts when Reinhart is on the ice during 5-on-5 play. That’s the fourth-best mark among those 103 forwards behind only the Carolina Hurricanes’ Jordan Martinook (63.65 percent) and the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (60.55 percent) and Zach Hyman (59.51 percent).

“You like the guy that does everything right as hard as he can,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “He never cheats the game. Some guys will go on a point run that you will kind of let them run with it, but they’re cheating the game a little bit to get the points first . ... He is not cheating the game. He is not cheating his team. He is about as honest a guy you can find in the league and he is on this great run, so everybody is pulling for him.”


At a minimum, the Panthers have another two-and-a-half months — plus however long they stay in the playoffs — with Reinhart under contract.

What comes next? That’s still being sorted out.

But as Reinhart has reiterated for months, his hope — his “Option A” — is to stay in South Florida when all is said and done. Publicly, the feeling is mutual.

It’s up to Reinhart and the Panthers to find common ground. Both sides sound optimistic they will at some point.

Until then, they’re going about everything business as usual — Reinhart finding ways to score and the Panthers finding ways to prepare for another deep playoff run.

“I’ve got no issues with it being ongoing,” Reinhart said. “They certainly don’t either. We’re both comfortabl­e with where we’re at and we’re both trying to ultimately trying to win a Stanley Cup this year. That’s where our focus is . ... Time will tell.”

 ?? D.A. VARELA dvarela@miamiheral­ ?? Sam Reinhart, who already has a career-high 37 goals, is in the final year of his three-year deal with the Panthers.
D.A. VARELA dvarela@miamiheral­ Sam Reinhart, who already has a career-high 37 goals, is in the final year of his three-year deal with the Panthers.

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