The Buffalo Sabres will start the season with superstar Jack Eichel‘s contract extension all wrapped up. The 11th hour deal is worth $80 million over eight years, that’s a AAV of $10 million per season and kicks in with the start of the 2018/19 season when his entry level contract expires.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 3, 2017
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world that is the NHL, Eichel’s contract extension has raised a few eyebrows. The center scored a reasonable 57 points last season, but missed games through injury. Much more impressive was his points-per-game (P/GP) tally. While 57 points wasn’t enough to crack the top 50; when compared to players who’d played the same (61) or more games, Eichel’s 0.93 P/GP lands him in the top dozen players in the league. At least on par with Boston’s David Pastrnak and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl. The big difference being that Eichel will be earning more than Pastrnak and Draisaitl.
So what exactly are the Sabres getting for their $80 million? If you adjust Eichel’s points to represent a full 82 games, that’s 76 points; i.e. Brent Burns, Vladimir Tarasenko and Draisaitl (again) territory. Burns and Tarasenko are their respective teams’ franchise players, and Draisaitl is friends with the Oilers’ franchise player.
Over the last two seasons combined; Eichel has the second most points for Buffalo, is joint top for goals and top for powerplay goals. So why the objections? Firstly , the Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 and they’ve not reached the Stanley Cup Final since 1999. To put it bluntly, the Sabres are a team that aren’t relevant when it comes to the business end of the season. The toughest fight last season was to avoid coming last in the Atlantic Division. A fight the team lost thanks to a Detroit Red Wings resurgence.
With so many challenges to face, is giving over such a big slice of cap space the sensible thing to do? It’s risky if Eichel doesn’t live up to expectations, this unlikely though given his performances so far.
The second factor is Eichel himself. Statistics aside, the 21 year old doesn’t have the best reputation, thanks in no small part to his rumoured contribution to the sacking of coach Dan Byslma. He’s also been critical of the team’s performance at times, although in fairness he’s not excluded himself from said criticism. This factor is a moot point and although there’s no smoke without fire; the Sabres’ front office know what they’re dealing with. If there’s truth to Eichel’s behavioural issues then this seems to be something that can be managed.
A lot of comparisons have been drawn between Eichel’s and Draisaitl’s contracts, and that’s understandable given the numbers. But the Oilers aren’t building the team around Draisaitl whereas the Sabres absolutely are. To be fair nothing else the Sabres have tried has worked and the team has nothing to lose. Well… aside from $80 million dollars and an untradeable contract.
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