Could Sam Reinhart turn into the Sabres version of LeBron James?

The Buffalo Sabres have cap space and a need for a top-six forward, and Sam Reinhart could wind up as a Stanley Cup Champion.
Buffalo Sabres v Florida Panthers
Buffalo Sabres v Florida Panthers / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Everyone knows LeBron James’ story: A former No. 1 overall pick who played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, left his hometown team, found out how to win championships with the Miami Heat, returned to Cleveland, and won the city its first championship since 1964. Meanwhile, Sam Reinhart, a former No. 2 pick for the Buffalo Sabres, could be following a similar career path. 

We also know Reinhart’s story with the Sabres, which involved him playing six full seasons for the Sabres and seven total before his trade to the Florida Panthers in 2021. Sure, Reinhart left the Sabres on better terms than James left Cleveland (the first time around), which even included a phone call to general manager Kevyn Adams following the trade. 

But still, the similarities are striking, even if Reinhart never achieved the same level of stardom as James. Yet now that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent following the season in an offseason when general manager Bill Zito will have no choice but to let a few players walk, Reinhart could easily test the free agent market and if that happens, you know all eyes will be on Buffalo. 

Say what you will about this scenario, but the Sabres just brought back a former head coach, so it’s nowhere near farfetched that Kevyn Adams would be open to getting a former player back to the organization. Yeah, after the kind of season he just had, there’s no doubt Reinhart will be looking for an AAV worth eight figures, but they also have over $23.5 million worth of cap space here. 

Could Sam Reinhart end up as the Buffalo Sabres version of LeBron James?

We know Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is the only pending free agent (RFA or UFA) worth re-signing to a long and somewhat lucrative deal, while the others will require much smaller and shorter salaries. We also know Jeff Skinner has just three years to go on his deal, assuming the Sabres don’t buy him out, and he will earn significantly less in 2025-26 and 2026-27 should he stick around. 

If the Sabres signed Reinhart to an eight-figure AAV, this doesn’t need to be a front-loaded contract, but instead, one that can pay him less in Year 1, then hit the eight-figure mark in Year 2 or Year 3 as Skinner’s contract decreases, assuming they keep Skinner. This would also work in conjunction with Rasmus Dahlin’s contract, which is worth a total salary of $13 million in Year 1 before it steadily decreases over the next seven seasons. 

Overall, this may look like a longshot, but it’s not as farfetched as it may appear on the surface. Admittedly, the strategy to fit Reinhart back onto the Sabres roster should he test free agency is incomplete, but it does give you an idea that bringing him back to Buffalo is workable. Now that he at least knows how to win a conference championship, if not more, there’s a chance Reinhart gets a James-like experience in the NHL.