BC’s Sam Reinhart is scoring at a historic pace as he chases the Cup with Florida

It’s become a running joke with the Florida Panthers. Ask coach Paul Maurice about Sam Reinhart and he’ll say something less than glowing about his team’s leading scorer.

These are concrete examples:

“He is difficult to deal with.”

“He has a terrible attitude.”

“He’s mean to small animals, especially squirrels.”

To be clear, Maurice means absolutely none of these things. Reinhart can become a free agent on July 1, and the jokes – all done in jest – are Maurice’s bogus attempts to try to dissuade other clubs from signing the player who put together the greatest scoring season in Panthers history. Reinhart has 60, including three in the playoffs, surpassing Pavel Bure’s mark of 59.

“It’s a big, big number,” Maurice said. “There is no cheating part in his game. And what’s impressive about 60 is that he wasn’t concerned with the power play and when he was on the ice for empty-netters, it was the right choice for him to be on the ice… that’s not how he achieves his goals. The great thing about him is he scored 60 goals and that’s obviously the headline, but it’s not necessarily the best part of his game.”

Here’s what Florida’s coach thinks is best, and there’s no benchmark for it on the stat sheet: Maurice simply raves about how smart Reinhart is, saying he’s one of the smartest he’s ever coached.

The way Reinhart took advantage of his openings this season is a testament to that smarts. He scored 57 goals in the regular season and connected on 24.5% of his shots that found the net. No one in the NHL had done that – 57 or more goals, 24.5% or better shooting – since Mario Lemieux in 1988-89.

In fact, the 28-year-old Reinhart is one of only five players to ever put up those numbers. The others: Lemieux, Jari Kurri (who did it twice), Wayne Gretzky (who did it twice), and Mike Bossy. All four are in the Hall of Fame.

“He’s great,” Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. “He can score from any position. He is smart. Not only does he score goals, but he is also an important player on penalties and in the defensive zone. It’s so nice to see him have that success.”

The Panthers – Stanley Cup finalists last season – are back in the second round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season, all with Reinhart on their roster since his arrival after seven seasons in Buffalo. They wait for Boston or Toronto in Round 2.

“Best time of the year,” says Reinhart, a West Vancouver native.

Reinhart is in the final year of a three-year, $19.5 million contract. He immediately showed that his mind was not elsewhere, scoring seven goals in the first six games of the season, fifteen goals in 21 games and keeping the pace high throughout.

He played all 82 games (for the second year in a row), led the league with 27 power play marks and had 11 game-winning goals. It’s not like his barrage came out of nowhere: Reinhart had scored at least 20 in seven of his first eight NHL seasons, and had 33 and 31 goals respectively in his first two seasons with the Panthers.

“I think if you get off to a better start, it makes everything else easier,” he said. “It kept me from really focusing on anything personal. If I had had a bad start it might have been a bit more difficult, but luckily I didn’t have to go down that road.”

Scoring 60 goals in a season – counting the playoffs – is something only 45 players have done in NHL history. There are 17 players who have done it multiple times, and that list is topped by names you’d expect: Gretzky and Bossy each had seven such seasons, while Guy Lafleur and Jaromir Jagr each had five.

Of the 45 who have scored the 60-goal mark in a season, 21 are already in the Hall of Fame and several others – including Jagr, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Connor McDavid – seem quite certain to be to go there as soon as they become eligible. Clearly, the 60 Club has a rare aura, and Reinhart now has a piece of hockey history.

“When he reached the 50-goal mark, I wondered how many other 50-goal scorers I’ve coached,” Maurice said.

The answer: None, in a regular season. Matthew Tkachuk had 51 for Florida last year, including the playoffs.

There have been 244 players who have scored goals with Maurice as coach, but none of them have scored 50 in a regular season – yet. Maurice has been a head coach for 26 seasons, playing more games behind the bench than anyone besides Scotty Bowman in NHL history, and he had never had a player score 50 goals before the playoffs until Reinhart this season went for 57 times. season.

“It’s that rare,” Maurice said.

Reinhart knew people would make a fuss when he reached certain milestones — 40 goals, 50 goals, now 60 with the three playoffs — but has insisted all season that there is a bigger goal. The Panthers have never won a Stanley Cup.

‘You want to be back. You want to get that opportunity again,” Reinhart said. “I think that’s what’s driven our team since the beginning of the year.”

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