Blue Jackets Should Pursue Sam Reinhart Unless They’re Rebuilding

Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Elvis Merzlikins, Jack Eichel, Jarmo Kekalainen, Sam Reinhart

The Columbus Blue Jackets and pending restricted free agent Sam Reinhart have been linked in rumors for some time. It’s easy to see why.

The Blue Jackets are in need of centers. Reinhart is a center who was well on his way to a career year in goals if not for the shortened season.

The question that must be considered is should the Blue Jackets pursue Reinhart in a trade? Does it even make sense given where we think they’re at in the process? Should they instead focus on 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel?

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
The Blue Jackets need centers, so them being linked to Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel is no surprise. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

You’re probably not landing both as the cost would be astronomical even for just one of them. But from a Blue Jackets’ perspective, they absolutely should inquire on both. But moving forward on them will depend on where they think they are as a team.

If It’s a Rebuild…

If the Blue Jackets decide they are in a full rebuild, then they should not pursue Reinhart. If they don’t pursue Reinhart because of that, they should definitely not pursue Eichel either. Both are at the point in their careers where they each want to go to a team who is ready to contend for the Stanley Cup now. Both have endured a career-long rebuild with the Sabres. That simply makes no sense to pursue them in that case.

While some folks think a full rebuild is coming for the Blue Jackets, we’re not there yet. They still have good players you can build around. If those players start expressing their desire to leave, then you know it’s time for a full rebuild. But no one on the Blue Jackets has come out and said they are in a full rebuild, yet.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen has said it’s more of a reload but has never said full rebuild. Many believe the Seth Jones news will push this into a full rebuild. We just don’t know yet. Even coach Brad Larsen is not sure what this team will look like. In a recent interview, he said they’ll have a better idea of things come late July-early August.

Maybe the Blue Jackets will have landed a top center by then. Maybe they’ll be in the same spot as they are now. Until we get a clearer picture of the roster, we don’t know if we’re dealing with a full rebuild.

But the fact that the Blue Jackets have reportedly expressed interest in Reinhart and Eichel suggests they believe they can compete if things fall into place. Let’s assume they are trying to avoid a full rebuild for now. Is Reinhart the right target for this team at this time?

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We know Eichel is a 1C and will cost the Blue Jackets a lot in any potential deal. The fifth-overall pick would be included plus other pieces. In addition we have to consider health with Eichel. How will things work out with his neck?

If the Blue Jackets think the price for Eichel is too high, then targeting Reinhart makes more sense. He was on pace for 37 goals with the Sabres had it been a full 82-game season. He’s also on the plus side of some important metrics including xGF% and CF% in 2020-21. For someone on the Sabres, that catches your attention.

Those that haven’t followed Reinhart closely will be surprised at just how much of a scorer he has become. In six full seasons, he has five 20-goal seasons. He can contribute on the power play. And when given a chance, he can be a playmaker as demonstrated by his 43 assists in 2018-19.

Where questions start to come in about Reinhart being a 1C is on some of the other numbers. He has never been above 50% in faceoffs for a full season in his career. His best season at the dot was last season when he was 45.7%. He also has a points per 60 rate of 1.86 at five-on-five since the start of the 2018 season. In his career to date, Reinhart has a points per 60 of 1.80. That’s just inside the top-150 of active players for a career. That doesn’t exactly scream 1C numbers. But again, look where he’s been.

Still it’s reasonable to expect Reinhart to improve if he’s put in a better situation. The issue with the Blue Jackets isn’t wingers. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Gus Nyquist, Patrik Laine and others can admirably play the wings. But with Max Domi’s injury forcing him out into the regular season, the need for centers cannot be understated.

What Would Reinhart Cost?

In my mind, any trade would be three pieces going to the Sabres in some form: A roster player, a prospect and a first-round pick. If I’m the Blue Jackets, I would not trade the fifth pick here. They have too many needs to address.

But the Blue Jackets do own two other first rounders. Plus if they elect to trade Jones this offseason where they’d most likely get a first-round pick back, they could come up with a suitable package that works involving those picks.

The Sabres have long been rumored to be interested in goalie Elvis Merzlikins. Blue Jackets’ fans would immediately hate this on the surface. But considering you have Joonas Korpisalo still there and Daniil Tarasov on his way soon, they have depth. You have to pay up to get what you want sometimes.

Elvis Merzlikins Columbus Blue Jackets
Elvis Merzlikins has been linked to the Sabres in rumors for a while now. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Would the Sabres accept a deal of Merzlikins, a prospect and a late first rounder for Reinhart? That feels like the neighborhood for a deal should something happen.

In addition if the Blue Jackets do acquire Reinhart, they have to sign him to a new deal. He could get close to $7 million AAV given his career to date and his arbitration eligibility. The Blue Jackets would only do this if they got him to sign a longer-term deal. Given their recent past of stars wanting out, they have to make sure he’s willing to be in Columbus.

The Blue Jackets Need To Be Sure

If the Blue Jackets strike out on Eichel and they want to compete now, trading for Reinhart makes sense. Otherwise if this is more of a years-long rebuild, now is not the time to pursue him. They better be sure a full rebuild is not needed. Delaying that rebuild when it’s necessary could set the franchise back even more than it already is.

The Blue Jackets need centers and Reinhart would fill a need. But better options could exist depending on the path they ultimately choose to take.

Reinhart is a good option, but only if the Blue Jackets are ready for him in the grand scheme of things.

I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.