The Buffalo Sabres have signed franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel to an eight-year extension worth $80MM. The contract—which kicks in for the 2018-19 season—will pay Eichel an average annual value of $10MM, putting him in rare company. Only Connor McDavid, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Carey Price will earn at least $10MM in the 2018-19 season. The extension will buy four years of free agency, sending Eichel to the open market at 29. The contract breaks down as follows:
- 2018-19: $10MM salary
- 2019-20: $10MM salary
- 2020-21: $2.5MM salary + $7.5MM signing bonus
- 2021-22: $10MM salary
- 2022-23: $2.5MM salary + $7.5MM signing bonus
- 2023-24: $10MM salary
- 2024-25: $10MM salary
- 2025-26: $10MM salary
Selected second overall in the 2015 draft, Eichel immediately left Boston University for the professional ranks and make an impact as a rookie. He finished with 24 goals and 56 points in the 2015-16 season, but still finished just fourth in Calder Trophy voting as the league’s top rookie. Artemi Panarin, Shayne Gostisbehere and McDavid all finished above him despite Eichel coming second in rookie scoring and showing he could survive as a top-line center in the NHL.
Last year, he suffered a high ankle sprain early in the season and was limited to just 61 games but once again proved his elite talent by scoring 57 points down the stretch. That total put Eichel 11th among forwards in points-per-game, ahead of players like Panarin, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jamie Benn.
Eichel’s deal—like his career—will certainly be compared to draftmate McDavid’s eight-year, $100MM contract. While McDavid dealt with his own injury problems as a rookie, he bounced back this season to capture nearly every individual trophy available. Though Eichel isn’t quite at that level, the Sabres wanted to spend no time waiting around before locking him in long-term. As the new face of the franchise, he’ll be leaned on as the go-to offensive weapon and first-line center for some time. Ryan O’Reilly will offer a strong partner for him on the second line, but the Sabres future will hinge on Eichel’s improvement.
The deal has sent shockwaves throughout the league, as though Eichel was always expected to get a large contract extension many didn’t believe he would crack the $10MM mark. While he’s certainly talented enough, he still hasn’t won any individual awards or taken his team to the playoffs. As other teams look to extend their young stars—Toronto and Auston Matthews in particular—Eichel’s deal now represents a second data point behind McDavid to compare to. Matthews, whose 40 goals and 69 points easily eclipsed Eichel’s rookie season, will now have two comparable extensions to bring up in negotiations next summer. Should he lead the Maple Leafs to the playoffs once again, and even surpass his own rookie totals, something pushing close to McDavid’s $12.5MM per season is not out of the question.
Still, some of Buffalo’s need to extend Eichel comes directly from that lack of playoff success. With the team struggling to put a playoff contender on the ice, letting Eichel get anywhere close to free agency (even restricted as it would have been) would have put a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. The 20-year old wasn’t going to give up money on a long-term deal before he’d really proven what he can do over a full season, so the team had to come in with an offer that would be in line with the other top players in the league. It doesn’t come without risk, as Eichel could regress or have more injury problems, but they’re willing to hitch their wagon to him right away.
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