With 60 goals, Sam Reinhart has made Florida Panthers history. He wants to win the Cup even more

Reinhart has 60, including three in the playoffs, topping Pavel Bure’s mark of 59.

With 60 goals, Sam Reinhart has made Florida Panthers history. He wants to win the Cup even more

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — It has become a running joke with the Florida Panthers. Ask coach Paul Maurice about Sam Reinhart, and he will say something less than glowing about his team’s top goal scorer.

These are actual examples:

“He’s hard to deal with.”

“He’s got a terrible attitude.”

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

To be clear, Maurice means absolutely none of those things. Reinhart can become a free agent on July 1, and the jabs — all done in jest — are Maurice’s faux efforts to try and deter other clubs from signing the player who has put together the biggest goal-scoring season in Panthers history. Reinhart has 60, including three in the playoffs, topping Pavel Bure’s mark of 59.

“It’s a big, big number,” Maurice said. “There isn’t a cheat part in his game. And what’s impressive about the 60 is he didn’t hang out on the power play and if he was on the ice for empty-netters it was the right thing for him to be on the ice … that’s not how he gets his goals. What’s great about him is he scored 60 goals and that clearly is the headline, but it’s not necessarily the best part of his game.”

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

The way Reinhart took advantage of his openings this season sort of shows those smarts. He had 57 goals in the regular season while connecting on 24.5% of his shots that reached the net. Nobody 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 is awesome,” Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said. “He can score from any position. He’s smart. He’s not only scoring goals but he’s a key player on the penalty kill as well and in the defensive zone. It’s so much fun to see him have that success.”

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

“Best time of year,” said Reinhart, who is from West Vancouver, British Columbia.

Reinhart is in the final year of a three-year, $19.5 million contract. He showed right away that his mind wasn’t elsewhere: He had seven goals in the season’s first six games, 15 goals through 21 games and kept the pace up the whole way.

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

“I think when you get off to a better start, it makes everything else easier," he said. "It’s allowed me to not really focus on anything personal. It might have been a little bit harder had I got off to a poor start -- but, fortunately, didn’t have to go down that road.”

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

Of the 45 that have hit the 60-goal mark in a season, 21 are already in the Hall of Fame and several others — Jagr, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid among them — seem pretty certain to be headed there once eligible. Clearly, the 60 Club is rare air, and Reinhart now owns some hockey history.

“When he hit 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 playoffs.

There have been 244 players who have scored goals with Maurice as their coach, but none of them getting 50 in a regular season — until now. Maurice has been a head coach for 26 seasons, racking up more games behind the bench in that span than anyone else besides Scotty Bowman in NHL history, and he’d never had a player score 50 times before the playoffs until Reinhart went for 57 this season.

“That’s how rare it is,” Maurice said.

Reinhart knew people would make a fuss when he hit certain milestones — 40 goals, 50 goals, now 60 with the three playoff tallies — 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 have that opportunity again,” Reinhart said. “I think that’s been driving our team from the start of the year.”


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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press