The big call

The offseason brings many big decisions, none bigger than Eichel's next contract

Jeremy White
April 10, 2017 - 7:37 pm

Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray has a busy offseason ahead of him. He’ll have to decide what to do about head coach Dan Bylsma, then he'll navigate the Sabres through the Expansion Draft. The NHL Draft follows, and then free agency kicks off at the start of July. Murray will have so many decisions to make, and I’m quite sure that we’ll talk about all of them. These decisions will define the offseason, but they’ll all pale in importance to the really big one that’s coming:  Jack Eichel’s contract.

This summer marks the start of the negotiating period between Eichel and the Sabres. A player can extend while playing in the final year of a contract, and Jack will be in year three of his three-year entry-level deal. If he doesn't extend this summer, get ready for all the drama that comes with that. Jack would play to the end of his entry-level deal, we'd be freaking out about teams coming in to sign him to an offer sheet (which we know won't happen cause the NHL GMs stay away from it to be nice to each other) and all the chatter about "wanting to be here" would reach an insufferable pitch. This process starts in July, and ends the day they get that long-term deal done.

The Sabres squandered year two of “Jack makes an insanely low amount of money considering the production he puts up”. Now as they head to year three of his entry-level contract, their decisions must all hinge on how they’re going to make the salary cap work once he's getting paid on that next deal. They're probably planning to pay Eichel $7.5 million or more and working with the salary cap with that in mind. I’m still settling in to just how much he’s going to command in his second contract. It's going to be a big deal.

If you hadn’t noticed, free agency in the league is almost entirely dead for the great players. Steven Stamkos took everyone for a ride last year, only to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Go ahead and try to think of the top-level talents and what they do on the market. They usually don’t hit the market.

It’s been happening, and the next 6-7 years will be more of the same.*

*This is why you tank

If you’re a young player coming off an entry level deal, there’s going to be money and term waiting for you. These teams lock up star players, and get cost-certainty for a period of time that often outlasts the GM that negotiated the deal. These are deals where it has to come from the top:

  • Nathan MacKinnon - 7 years, $44 million
  • Sean Monahan - 7 years, $44 million
  • Victor Hedman - 8 years, $63 million 
  • Connor McDavid - 8 years, $80 million (Ok, this one hasn’t happened yet)

What’s Eichel worth? My guess is he’s going to be north of $7 million (unless he has Nikita Kucherov’s agent and signs for a ridiculous $4.7 million because NHL GMs are afraid to make Steve Yzerman mad by offer-sheeting a guy that ended up scoring FORTY THIS YEAR).

Eichel and Sam Reinhart follow the same contractual path here so you can apply this breakdown to both. As restricted free agents, you don’t have to worry about either player leaving the Sabres because they’re mad about the team losing. Not yet, at least. Both have to accrue seven years in the NHL before they hit unrestricted free agency, so the length of the next contract is going to be very important.

How should the Sabres ownership and management go about signing “The Franchise”?

Ideal scenario - The Sabres sign Eichel to a two or three-year contract. When it’s up, he’s still an RFA, and he signs another for the max-term of eight years.

Second place scenario - He signs for eight years.  

Last place - 4 years.

If Eichel were to sign a four-year extension that would mean he’s hitting unrestricted free agency as soon as he possibly can. Any player of his caliber that’s thinking all about business, would have to consider a road that gets him to that big UFA day. For a team in this spot, it’s such a terrifying thought that the Sabres shouldn’t have it on the table as an option. Four years is a non-starter.

I would imagine that if you’re going longer, you’re committing more money. Eichel has just started to scratch the surface in the league, and locking in to $8 million dollars a year might be a mistake. There’s no telling what the league will do from a revenue standpoint in the next decade, and the cap being tied to that, means any player might want flexibility to negotiate new contracts as often as possible. Sure the guarantee of $8 million a year for eight years is more than adequate and could certainly get the job done, it’s entirely possible that Eichel’s camp thinks he’s going to be taking him $10 million a year sometime down the line.

What will Jack ask for? What would you make as the Sabres first offer?

Murray should be pushing a three-year contract worth $21 million dollars with full expectation that it goes to $24 million dollars, or more. Overpay to make it three years. Overpay for the bridge deal that lands you with RFA rights.

Shoot for three, settle for eight. Remove every reference to the number-4 from the building.

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