Probably the single-most controversial trade of Peter Chiarelli’s tenure as Edmonton Oilers general manager was his decision at the 2015 Draft to deal first- and second-round draft picks to the New York Islanders in exchange for defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart. It was a contentious move the moment it was announced, and a 2015-16 campaign split between the AHL and NHL has done nothing to quiet the argument.
The question now is what the Oilers should do with Reinhart. In this week’s edition of What Would You Do Wednesday, we turn that question over to our readers.
The difficulty with Reinhart is two-fold: contract and ability.
Because Reinhart was a fourth overall pick, his entry-level deal came with all kinds of bonuses, with NHL Numbers listing his cap hit at $3.213 million. For most teams that wouldn’t matter much, as Reinhart isn’t likely to hit those bonuses and they could exceed the salary cap by the bonus amount without having to worry about being penalized later. The Oilers, though, already have a bunch of key players on entry-level deals with big bonus clauses, and the CBA limits the amount of bonus money that teams can treat as wiggle room.
For Edmonton, that means Reinhart effectively counts as a $3.2 million player against the salary cap next year, and that’s a problem because he isn’t close to being that good of a defenceman at this point in his career.
On the ability side of things, Reinhart is still trying to establish himself as a full-time NHL player. He’s big and smart, but he isn’t fast and both his puck skills and physical game tend to be inconsistent—sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t. His shot metrics were underwhelming, ranking ninth of 10 regular Oilers defencemen (only Darnell Nurse came in lower). Regular partners Jordan Oesterle and Eric Gryba were both more impressive away from him. Offensively, his scoring rate (points/hour) was just one-third that of noted scoring machine Mark Fayne.
I see three obvious approaches for Edmonton next season.
Play him in the NHL. Edmonton could opt to employ Reinhart in the NHL full-time (or close to full-time) next season. The cap hit is manageable in the sense that the Oilers could make room for it, and the team could decide that playing the 22-year-old third-year pro in the majors is what’s best for his development and therefore what’s best for the team in the long-term.
Play him in the AHL. Because Reinhart’s deal is an entry-level (and therefore two-way) contract, demoting him to the minors mean that the cap issues detailed above simply go away. He’d undoubtedly log heavy minutes in the minors and would remain available to the Oilers as a recall option. Next year, when his entry-level deal ends, Edmonton would have the option of signing him to a cheaper contract.
Trade him. For most teams, Reinhart’s bonuses aren’t relevant and the key point is his modest base salary (less than $900,000). That makes him a cheap addition and worth more to them in 2016-17 than he is to the Oilers. Additionally, there’s a positional argument for moving Reinhart: with Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nurse and Brandon Davidson all young left-shot defenders in the NHL (to say nothing of Jordan Oesterle, Dillon Simpson and David Musil in the AHL) it might not be a bad idea to move a young player with trade value from that position to try and address another area of actual weakness.
Which approach should the Oilers pursue?
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