The Buffalo Sabres announced last night that they had inked star center Jack Eichel to an eight year contract with an AAV of $10m, to start when his three-year entry level contract expires at the end of the upcoming season.
This deal will make him the joint fifth-highest paid hockey player in the NHL, with Connor McDavid making $12.5 million, then Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Carey Price at $10.5 million, and Eichel joining Anze Kopitar at $10 million.
As can be expected, the news was greeted by Sabres nation with both joy and dismay. The majority of the fanbase is excited by the fact that the face of the franchise will stay in Buffalo for the maximum term allowed by the players’ association CBA. However, the more discerning fans have been quick to point out that the organization probably gave him more money than he has shown he is worth.
We take a look at both sides of the argument here.
Eichel is the undoubted face of the franchise. The Sabres locking him down to the max term is a PR win for the organization, shows that the player wants to be here. His agent throwing in that he took less money to allow the team to sign other players adds more fuel to that PR bonfire.
If the center tears it up in the NHL this season, scoring at 1+ ppg, then this deal is a win because the Sabres have got him to sign a deal when he was already scoring at a .934 ppg clip. A great season with his name in trophy conversations would have easily added to his value if this deal was not already done.
Eichel's shooting percentage has been low over the last two seasons, 10.1% and 9.6%. If he were to have a healthy season with some puck luck in the 15% range, negotiations would start at $11m per year, easily.
The Sabres under Phil Housley on paper look like they could sneak into the playoffs if a couple of things go right. With Eichel leading the way to the second season, that would give his camp a lot more leverage in contract discussions.
The Auston Matthews factor. Should the Toronto Maple Leafs decide to give their superstar a new deal with one year left on his contract, and if that coincided with Eichel’s deal coming up for discussion, it would give his camp another comparison point which likely would not have favoured the Sabres.
Not getting a deal done before the beginning of the season would have resulted in this hanging over the team’s head at every twist and turn of this 2017-18 season. Housley already has his work cut out to get Buffalo to the playoffs, and another off-ice distraction is the last thing the Sabres needed.
However, by making this deal even though it likely favors the player, Buffalo has sent out the message that Eichel is the golden boy of the organization, and has been paid such. The Edmonton Oilers chose to wait with
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisatl, and paid through the nose for it.
Eichel’s production isn’t quite top 5 in the League (yet), especially when you dig a little deeper beyond the simple scoring rate. Some sort of a bridge deal until he’s 25 could probably have been worked out, with a bigger risk that he walks at that time.
Based on comparisons with players like Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, and looking at their first long-term deals as a percentage of the team;s salary camp, something in the $8-9m per year would have been more suitable. The cap growing by about $2m every year would not change that much.
Injuries have One injury has already played a part in his short career so far. If he continues to be injury-prone, then this deal really starts to look like an anchor for the Sabres if Eichel is not consistently playing 70+ games a season, especially if he isn’t scoring at point-per-game pace.
Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane are also coming up on contract negotiations. Advanced statistics show that the pair are on par with and in many cases ahead of Eichel. Their respective agents will be making a case to get their clients paid similar vast amounts, which could lead to a cap issue of monumental proportions for the Sabres.
Also, his agent Peter Fish’s comment about taking less money could be straight-up hogwash for all we know - “We advised Jack to play the year out in order to get more money but Jack wanted to get a deal done. Help the Sabres win and get more players for the future.”
Eichel might never turn out to be an elite player, remaining just a step behind the Sidney Crosby and McDavid level. If that turns out to be the case, then the Sabres might really feel the brunt of this eight year-deal towards the back end of the contract.
PS: Some of the arguments for and against have been extracted from reader comments in previous posts - thank you for your input, feel free to add more in the comments below.