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Over The Boards

Mailbag: Top potential free agents, Reinhart's future with Sabres

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the June 24 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

What top-pair defensemen are available via trade/free agency this offseason? Top-line forwards? -- @180zf

What's interesting is the list of the top potential unrestricted free agent defensemen includes several with a right-handed shot, including Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues), Tyson Barrie (Toronto Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Pittsburgh Penguins), Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg Jets), Travis Hamonic (Calgary Flames), Sami Vatanen (Carolina Hurricanes), Kevin Shattenkirk (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Christopher Tanev (Vancouver Canucks). There is a value with a right-shooting defenseman, especially one who can help on the power play. There's also Torey Krug (Boston Bruins) and TJ Brodie (Flames) on the left side; either would provide great value to any team.

The top forwards who could be an unrestricted free agent include Taylor Hall (Arizona Coyotes), Mike Hoffman (Florida Panthers), Ilya Kovalchuk (Washington Capitals), Tyler Toffoli (Canucks), Mikael Granlund (Nashville Predators), Evgenii Dadonov (Panthers), and Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks), who could want a change if he decides to keep playing.

The goalie market could include Braden Holtby (Capitals), Jacob Markstrom (Canucks), Robin Lehner (Vegas Golden Knights) and Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks).

I hesitate to say what will happen with any of them because we don't know what's going to happen with the NHL salary cap, and that impacts what teams will be able to do. There's still time for some of the players to do something this season that could impact their future. And as for trades, that market will materialize in the coming months, and some of it certainly will depend on what happens during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

 

Do you think Sam Reinhart re-signs with the Buffalo Sabres? If yes, how long and how much? If not, where do you think he goes? -- @SabrePats13

Reinhart can become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this offseason. I think the forward is an important player to the Sabres under the right contract structure. He has missed six games, none in the past three seasons, in his five full NHL seasons (not counting the nine games he played in 2015-16 before going back to junior hockey), so you can count on his reliability. He has averaged 0.71 points per game the past three seasons. That's comparable in that timeframe to Dallas Stars forward Joe Pavelski (0.72), Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (0.72), Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty (0.71), Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson (0.71) and Capitals forward T.J. Oshie (0.71). You can rely on his productivity. But what is the right contract structure?

The first place to start are the comparables. Even though they're three years apart, I think 27-year-old Blues forward Jaden Schwartz is one of the better comparables to 24-year-old Reinhart in terms of contracts and production.

Schwartz, like Reinhart, played on a three-year, entry-level contract that was followed by a two-year contract. He grew as a player in the third season of his entry-level contract and got better during his second contract. Reinhart played more on his entry-level contract (249 games) than Schwartz did on his (132 games), but their rate of production wasn't dramatically different. Reinhart averaged 0.56 points per game during his entry-level contract, Schwartz averaged 0.55. Like Schwartz, Reinhart's second contract was for two years and he also grew his game. Schwartz played 108 games on his second contract, in part because he was limited to 33 games in 2015-16 because of injury. He scored 85 points (36 goals, 49 assists), an average of 0.79 points per game. Reinhart played 151 games on his two-year contract, missing the final 13 scheduled regular-season games of 2019-20 because the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and scored 115 points (44 goals, 71 assists), an average of 0.76 points per game. That's not a dramatic difference in points per game.

Video: DET@BUF: Reinhart jams home Eichel's rebound

Schwartz signed a five-year, $26.75 million contract on July 15, 2016. The $5.35 million average annual value represented 7.33 percent of the NHL salary cap when he signed it ($73 million for the 2016-17 season). Assuming for this answer the salary cap next season stays the same as it is this season ($81.5 million), a comparable cap charge for Reinhart's next contract would reasonably be about $6 million, which would be 7.36 percent of the salary cap. There obviously needs to be wiggle room to go up from there based on how the Sabres value him, but somewhere in that $6-$7 million range, especially if it's a four-, five- or six-year contract, seems like the sweet spot for a player who has proven his productivity and his reliability to a team that needs a lot of both.

Do you think Alexei Melnichuk has a chance to be the future starter in San Jose? -- @GLaSnoST9

He has a chance. That's about all we know at this point. The Sharks liked Melnichuk enough to sign the 21-year-old Russia-born goalie to an entry-level contract May 4. In 16 games with SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League this season he was 8-5-1 with a 1.68 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and four shutouts. There's still a lot for Melnichuk to prove, but there's also the question of if the Sharks are done tinkering with their goaltending for next season, especially when the market is flush with potential for them. There are top options like Holtby, Markstrom, Crawford and Lehner, each of whom could supplant Martin Jones as the No. 1 in San Jose. The Sharks also could re-sign Aaron Dell, who split time with Jones last season and can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Sharks could then trade Jones, but with four seasons remaining on his six-year contract, that could be difficult. There also are pending unrestricted free agent goalies like Anton Khudobin of the Stars and Thomas Greiss of the New York Islanders, who could be 1B options to partner with Jones. Then there is the potential for a trade to acquire someone to play with Jones. Would the New York Rangers be inclined to trade Alexandar Georgiev? If yes, San Jose could be interested. What about the potential for either Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry to be traded by the Penguins? Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford has acknowledged that potential. But let's not discount the very basic concept of trying to help Jones improve by fixing whatever issues he may have and continuing to rely on him as the No. 1. That might be the simplest and most cost-effective way to go. If that's the case, Melnichuk could be the backup, which would give him the opportunity to prove himself in the NHL. That's where it has to start.

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