It’s reasonable to assume that this has been a pretty good summer for Jack Eichel, at least in an indirect way.
Just look at the big, eight-year deals the Edmonton Oilers handed out. Whether it be Connor McDavid getting $12.5 million per year or Leon Draisaitl receiving $8.5M in AAV, each contract seems like it would be a small victory for Eichel’s camp.
FanRag’s Chris Nichols transcribed interviews Buffalo’s WGR 550 conducted with Darren Dreger and Alex Tanguay, providing some interesting perspectives on Eichel possibly entering the 2017-18 season without a contract extension locked down.
The most important takeaway likely comes from Dreger, who reports that Eichel would be OK with the idea of a contract year.
“My sense a week or even two weeks ago was that they were still very hopeful that they would get a settlement done here, they would reach an agreement prior to the start of the season,” Dreger said on WGR 550, via Nichols. “There’s still that possibility, but I’m now getting the sense that – certainly from the player’s perspective – he’s okay starting the season without this contract extension in place.”
Tanguay believes that the Sabres might be the greater beneficiary of Eichel playing out the year, but considering Eichel’s importance to Buffalo, it’s tough to imagine the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft coming at a major discount.
The best is yet to come
Eichel enjoyed a strong rookie season, scoring 24 goals and 56 points in 81 games in 2015-16. Despite missing 20 games this past season, Eichel once again scored 24 goals and finished with 57 points, firing 249 shots on goal during that time.
Scoring 57 points in 61 games would translate to 76 points in an 82-game season. While you could argue that maybe fatigue would slow Eichel a bit in that scenario, it’s interesting to note that Eichel would have generated virtually the same results as Draisaitl did in 2016-17 (the Oilers forward had 77 points).
Beyond even those injury woes, Eichel hasn’t enjoyed a ton of puck luck yet in his career. Draisaitl, for example, scored 29 goals with a 16.9 shooting percentage. Eichel only connected on 10.1 and 9.6 percent of his high volume of shots in his first two seasons.
It’s plausible that the Sabres could make a big push toward competence as a team next season, and Eichel could see a big jump. Draisaitl himself went from 51 to 77 points, enormously improving his perceived value in the process.
(Eichel, for one, believes that Buffalo could make the playoffs.)
At 20, Eichel is easily in the range where a talented player could make a huge leap, especially if there’s the extra motivation of a contract year involved (whether he went through the full thing or the Sabres eventually decided to pony up).
If healthy, Eichel seems likely to eclipse 30 goals and 70 points. What if he enjoys a hot streak, though? He boasts the opportunities and skills to reach as high as 40 goals and 80 points, possibly costing the Sabres extra millions in their gamble.
MORE: What might his contract look like?
And that, really, is the question: how much would the Sabres really stand to save in waiting? Eichel has reason to sign if there’s a fair deal, too, as an extension provides peace of mind in a violent sport where injury luck can be fickle.
In many cases, teams send a clear signal that their core guys are a priority, locking them up to extensions just about as early as possible.
Eichel is an integral talent for the Sabres, so they might as well treat him as such. It might just save them a few bucks in the process.