May 05, 2006

Paul Reinhart

Paul Reinhart was a tremendous cerebral player who could have been a Hall of Famer had his body held up. A serious back problem really limited him throughout his short career, but you could just tell how intelligent and special this player was despite the pain.

Paul was a very versatile player. He was primarily a defenseman but could also play any forward position. Even as a junior with his hometown team the Kitchener Rangers, he split time between center and defense. This development continued in his pro career.

"My defensive work needed a lot of attention" said Paul of his junior days. "But all that background as a forward was useful because today's defenceman handles the puck a lot and is expected to be an integral part of the offence."

And Paul certainly became an integral defenseman, although he played at times in every skating position, particularly in his first year in the NHL.

Paul was Atlanta's 1st pick, 12th overall in the very strong 1979 draft. Paul broke in with the Atlanta Flames that same year as a defenseman because the Flames were in a desperate need of a good all-around defenseman. Over the next rew years Paul filled in wherever the team needed. If they lost a center they moved Paul up. If they needed a winger Paul took that spot as well. If they wanted to hold on to the lead in the last minute of play they moved Paul back to defense again.

When Paul did play on the blueline - which was the majority of the time - he was often paired with fearsome veteran Phil Russell. Reinhart left an impression on Russell almost immediately.

"I've seen the other draft choices (from the deep 1979 Entry Draft) around the league and Paul doesn't have to take a back seat to any of them" Russell said. That's quite a compliment considering other first round draft picks that year included long time NHLers like Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage, Rick Vaive, Craig Hartsburg, Mike Ramsey, Tom McCarthy, Brad McCrimmon, Brian Propp, Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe!

Paul was very strong with the puck. Once he got the puck it was very hard to get it away from him. Paul picked up a total of 559 pts (133 goals and 426 assists) in only 648 games, not bad considering that he was a defenseman most of the time. His best offensive outputs was 75 points 1982-83, and he also had 69 points in 1984-85, 68 points in 1986-87, 67 points in 1980-81 and 61 points (in only 62 games) in 1981-82. He also had two seasons of 57 pts for Vancouver while only playing 64 and 67 games due to the bad back.

His bad back unfortunately bothered him for most of his career and was the reason why he decided to retire at only 30 years old. He almost retired when he was 24. He had a problematic disc in his back that required surgery and forced him to miss all but 27 regular season games in 1983-84. He also only played 32 games in 1985-86 and 14 games in 1987-88.

Paul was one of the first people asked to try out for the Canada Cup team in 1984 but had to turn down the invitation because of the bad back. He already had a Canada Cup behind him in 1981 where he made the team ahead of such players like Paul Coffey, Doug Wilson and Randy Carlyle (all subsequent Norris trophy winners). Unfortunately he twisted his ankle after only two games and had to watch the rest of the tournament from the stands. Paul also starred for Canada in the 1982 and 1983 World Championships, making the All-Star team. He also played in the 1985 and 1989 NHL All-Star games.

Although Paul never won the Norris trophy he was always one of the top scoring defensemen when healthy. For a couple of years he formed maybe the best offensive pairing amongst defensemen together with a young Al MacInnis, also a Kitchener Rangers graduate.

During the 1984 playoffs the Flames lost in the 7th and deciding game against the Oilers who went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. After the series Paul Reinhart was the leading playoff scorer with his 17 pts in 11 games and his partner on the blue line Al MacInnis was the second highest defenseman in the playoffs to that point (14 pts in 11 games). Paul was a very good playoff performer who got 77 pts (23 goals and 54 assists) in 83 career playoff games.

Paul's bad back continued to plague him for many seasons and eventually had to quit although just coming of a fine 57 point season in only 67 games for the Canucks where he played his last two seasons. Despite playing in just two pain-filled years in Vancouver, Paul was named to the the team's 25th anniversary "All Canuck" team by the media. The accolade all but named #23 as the best d-man in Canucks history despite only playing 2 seasons, neither of which he played at 100%.

Paul had four or five good years left in him but his bad back won the battle. Paul goes down to history as one of the games most underrated skilled defensemen.

"In terms of all around talent, I don't believe there are many defensemen better than Reinhart," said his coach Bob Johnson during the 1986 season. "He's a capable defender in his own zone, first of all. Moreover, he's got the mobility and the offensive skills to make an important contribution to our attack. He's the big reason we've got one of the strongest power plays in the NHL."

An interesting side story about the man they call "Rhino" - As a kid he once played against Wayne Gretzky's peewee team. Paul tied The Little One against the boards in a rink with no glass to stop the puck from going out of play. Paul tied him up in the wrong spot as Wayne's grandmother was right there. She grabbed her purse and clubbed Reinhart over the head and told him to "leave my Wayne alone!" Gretzky later joked that the Oilers were looking to sign Grandma Gretzky if Dave Semenko ever got injured.

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