Victor Olofsson has been one of the key pieces to the Buffalo Sabres offense this season. The 24-year-old rookie is scoring at a 30 goals per 82 game pace. As a result of this, Olofsson will be added to the list of important restricted free agents that will need a new contract in the summer.
His situation is one we don’t see often in the NHL. He’ll only have one full NHL season under his belt but will go into the offseason with good production as an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. The Sabres will need to decide if they want to buy long-term on the Swedish-born sniper or if they want to go the bridge route to ensure he continues his success in a bigger sample.
It’s rare that you see an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent with less than 75 games of NHL experience. It’ll be interesting to see how the Sabres approach this negotiation in the offseason. I was so intrigued by the situation that I did some digging on comparable contracts to try to find his market similar to what I did with Sam Reinhart the other day.
I went to Cap Friendly and pulled contracts signed by restricted free agents with less 250 games played at the time they signed their deal dating back to 2015. I was able to pull a list of 22 contracts that fell within the aforementioned requirements.
We’ll start again by looking at the contract lengths of these 22 contracts.
In the histogram above you’ll see that the majority of the deals ranged between four to six years, with four being the most common contract term.
Going to salary arbitration or electing for a bridge deal is likely going to end up costing the Sabres more money in the long run. Although he’ll only have played in 73 games at most when the season is over, his shooting talent is something you should feel comfortable betting on. There are some risks in buying long-term on a player with a small sample size, but his skillset is a repeatable skill that has translated from the SHL to the AHL, and now the NHL.
The money is where it starts to get sticky. Through 51 games this season, Olofsson is scoring at a 0.78 points per game rate, which is the highest of any of the 22 players in the dataset that I pulled. In most cases, goal scorers usually cost teams more money than those players that are more overall point producers. For example, if you have two players where everything is equal and player A has 20 goals and 40 assists. While player B has 30 goals and 30 assists; the 30-goal player gets paid more.
So, let’s see how this breaks out. Below you’ll find the 22 players, including Olofsson, plotted by their cap hit percentage and points per game.
Olofsson is highlighted in red and as I mentioned he’s the highest points per game player on the list. The size of the bubble represents the amount of games played.
For plotting purposes, I set his cap hit percentage at 5.83%. With today’s news of the salary cap going up somewhere between $84 to $88 million next season, 5.83% would give Olofsson a $4.9 million cap hit on an $84 million salary cap.
#NHL cap projection for 2020-21: $84 to $88.2 million, up from current $81.5 million, but it’s dependent on negotiations with NHLPA.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 4, 2020
Looking through the comparable contracts, I feel as though Victor Arvidsson, Alex Tuch, and Colin White are the three closest to match Olofsson’s situation. Arvidsson signed his deal with the Nashville Predators back in 2017 at 24-years-old with 142 games under his belt. Like Olofsson, he was also arbitration-eligible which is important to note in these cases. He signed a seven-year contract with a $4.25 million cap hit, which was a cap hit percentage of 5.67%.
White signed his deal with the Ottawa Senators back in August of last year at 22-years-old. White, however, was not arbitration-eligible at the time. His deal was six-years, with a $4.75 million cap hit, working out to a cap hit percentage of 5.83%. At the time of signing his new deal, White had only played 94 games with the Senators.
If the Sabres go with a five-year deal for Olofsson they’ll end up buying two years of unrestricted free agency. As we know, unrestricted free agency years cost more than restricted free agency years and drive the cap hit up.
Breaking it down, we can assume years 1-3 could cost in the range of $4 million per season and the final two UFA years costing around $7 million per season. That adds up to a contract total of $26 million (4-4-4-7-7) and when you divide that out by five years you end up with a cap hit of $5.2 million. On an $84 million salary cap that is a cap hit percentage 6.19%. Now, that may be on the high end for a player with less than 75 NHL games, but it’s probably safe to say this is his ceiling on a long-term deal.
Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch signed a seven-year contract with a $4.75 million cap hit (5.97 C.H.%) back in October with only 84 games of NHL experience. On that seven-year deal, the Golden Knights bought three UFA years from Tuch. Therefore, in theory, we could establish the floor for Olofsson to be around 5.9% if they’re only buying two UFA years.
If the NHL ends up at an $84 million salary cap that would make Olofsson’s cap hit window between $4.95 to $5.2 million with a cap hit percentage range of 5.9% to 6.19%.
This really is going to be a fascinating situation to follow throughout the summer. As I mentioned, the Sabres have an opportunity to sign a player to a long-term deal that will be team-friendly down the road when they have Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin eating up a chunk of the salary cap.
Whoever the general manager of the team is would be wise to not let this opportunity pass them by. Olofsson has the shooting talent to be a consistent 25 to 30 goal scorer in the NHL. Especially if he continues to get time on the first power play unit and a top-six role with a playmaking center like Eichel.