Jack Eichel is going to be in Buffalo for a very, very long time.
Nine years to be exact. The 20-year-old center agreed on an eight-year, $80 million contract with the Sabres Tuesday. The new deal makes him the highest-paid player in team history.
Eichel will play out the final year of his rookie contract which earns him $925K for the 2017-18 season. His new deal kicks in for 2018-19.
Eichel is the latest young star player to receive big money before reaching restricted free agency. Edmonton's Connor McDavid, who was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 before the Sabres grabbed Eichel No. 2, agreed on an eight-year extension in July that will count for $12.5 million against the cap after this season.
Unlike McDavid, Eichel has no major awards in his cabinet. He has yet to play in a playoff game. Despite that, the Sabres were comfortable committing major bucks to their young franchise center who finished with 57 points in 61 games last season.
Eichel was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dreary Sabres season. Buffalo played prehistoric hockey under Dan Bylsma in 2016-17 — perfectly content to play slow, conservative hockey.
That will change under new head coach Phil Housley, who comes from a system with the Nashville Predators that emphasises quick transitions and aggression. That style should help Eichel exponentially.
Still, there is an element of Eichel's contract that is projecting forward. There's some risk and reward to that approach — when his contract kicks in, Eichel will be tied for the fifth-highest cap hit in the league (Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar also counts for $10 million a year). This deal is larger than Alex Ovechkin's, Sidney Crosby's and Evgeni Malkin's.
But if Eichel continues to grow and challenges for a scoring title every year, the contract will be a bargain. Eichel's agent, Peter Fish, admitted that he advised Eichel to wait until next summer to negotiate a new deal because that could mean more money, but his client wanted to get something done now that wouldn't hinder the Sabres' salary cap going forward.
And all things considered, Buffalo is in decent shape money-wise looking ahead. The entire core of the team — Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen — are locked in long term. There's enough flexibility in upcoming years, especially with Evander Kane ($5.25 million) and Josh Gorges ($3.9 million) coming off the books, that the Sabres can still add impact players.
This contract is a big deal (pun intended) for Buffalo. The Sabres have lacked a true franchise-caliber player ever since Dominik Hasek was traded in 2001, but Eichel has already filled that void. With his future no longer in question, Sabres management can focus on building a supporting cast that is capable of getting Buffalo back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.