While the eight-year, $80MM contract extension that the Sabres handed center Jack Eichel earlier this week ensures that Buffalo has their franchise player under contract for almost the next decade, it also goes a long way towards setting the market for 2016 top picks Auston Matthews (Toronto) and Patrik Laine (Winnipeg) this time one year from now.
Both Matthews and Laine surpassed Eichel’s rookie season output and at least are expected to do the same with their second-year production so it’s fair to say that both players should check in past that $10MM mark while Connor McDavid’s eight-year, $100MM extension with Edmonton from the summer will represent the high end.
Despite that, there’s a case to be made that Buffalo did the Leafs and Jets at least small favor by locking Eichel up now. With a more defined salary range to work with, it should be easier for GMs Lou Lamoriello and Kevin Cheveldayoff to plan around who they can keep and who may become a cost casualty. Both teams will have some tough calls to make.
For Toronto, they also have Mitch Marner eligible for an extension starting next summer while William Nylander’s entry-level contract will be up (with no in-season extension in the plans). That trio could cost somewhere around $25MM per year and Lamoriello will undoubtedly want to keep all three in the fold. Looking ahead to 2019-20 when the second contracts will kick in for Marner and Matthews, they’ll have over $55MM committed to just 11 players (which doesn’t include the injured Nathan Horton or any money allocated for pending UFAs Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, and Leo Komarov). Needless to say, that’s going to be a tight squeeze.
It isn’t much different in Winnipeg either, especially with the recent long-term extensions handed out to Bryan Little (six years) and Nikolaj Ehlers (seven years). They already have more than $33MM tied up in six players for 2019-20 when Laine’s next deal will begin plus they still have to re-sign Jacob Trouba this summer and either re-sign or replace key pieces in winger Blake Wheeler and defenseman Tyler Myers a year later. Put those four players (or replacements) under contract and they’ll be past the $60MM mark with still more than half a team to sign.
The 2019 offseason is still a long way away so there is plenty of time for Lamoriello and Cheveldayoff to determine how they’re going to fit in the big ticket deals for Matthews and Laine on their payroll. But at least now with the Eichel contract, they have a better idea of just how much it’s going to cost to keep them around for the long haul which gives them more time to plan out any corresponding moves.