That question will be batted around Hockey Twitter on Tuesday and through much of 2017-18, even though that mammoth, historic extension won’t kick in for the Buffalo Sabres until 2018-19.
There are a number of names that come to mind when we consider Eichel’s extension. In the simplest of terms, you could look at this deal as the midway point between Leon Draisaitl‘s eight-year deal ($8.5M per year) and Connor McDavid‘s contract ($12M).
It’s the Draisaitl example that might scare the Sabres the most.
After a middling rookie season, Draisaitl scored 19 goals and 51 points in 2015-16. Playing alongside Connor McDavid, getting some nice bounces (16.9 shooting percentage), and blossoming as a player proved to be the perfect storm for Draisaitl to make a bunch of money. Imagine how much money the Oilers might have saved if they signed Draisaitl last summer, instead?
Those are the sort of conundrums that keep GMs up at night, and there’s some reason to believe that Eichel might have exploded for a much bigger 2017-18.
Eichel’s sophomore season was derailed by injuries, while he was quite impressive as an 18-year-old rookie. Consider that, either way, the dangerous shooter’s “puck luck” has been quite ordinary.
What if Eichel were to stay healthy this coming season and enjoy some luck along Draisaitl’s lines in 2016-17, or better? What if the Sabres enjoy similar growth to the Edmonton Oilers, making the playoffs and thus giving the curly-haired dynamo even more leverage?
Now, there are certainly some counterpoints. The Sabres getting this done now instead of a year later gives them less time to determine his value. This could be a consideration if injuries beguile Eichel throughout his career.
Still, it’s honestly tough to imagine Eichel’s value sinking far below $10M per season after a contract year. He’s already an impressive talent, and greed can be good for stars of his caliber.
Also, consider the situation from a PR standpoint.
Unlike Draisaitl, Eichel is the face of the Sabres’ franchise right now. It’s plausible that Eichel will enjoy a season as productive or better than Auston Matthews, a guy in a somewhat similar spot who could lock down a contract after his sophomore season.
If Eichel and Matthews both had monster years, and the Maple Leafs locked up their star first … well, that wouldn’t be great.
Now, the Sabres don’t need to worry about that. They also send a message that teams often do: Eichel is a star, and a piece of their core. You don’t wait-and-see with your most important players. The Oilers didn’t do that with McDavid and paid a premium in waiting with Draisaitl. The Pittsburgh Penguins have benefited from good CBA timing, yet they’ve also been consistently proactive with locking up Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Yes, Eichel is at least a stride behind the best of the best … at least right now. Maybe he’ll be on a lower tier for good.
Still, from here, this investment seems like the best move considering the circumstances. If you want to compete in sports, you often have to spend money to make money.
Let’s have fun with this, though. Share your thoughts in the comments. In a few years, we might laugh or wince at these immediate Eichel reactions.