All NHL General Managers know that when you have a franchise player, you lock him up for as long as possible, at almost any price. They are the key to success of an organization. If you need assurance, just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks. That is why Jack Eichel is going to see a large extension for a much higher salary than almost any player has when he comes off his entry-level contract. And what happens will likely affect the fate of the other restricted free agents of the Buffalo Sabres.
According to multiple reports, Oilers star Connor McDavid extension is expected to be for 8 years, $106 million ($13.25 M/year). The 20-year old center from North Chelmsford may not see that, as McDavid led the league with 100 points, but do not be shocked to see an eight-figure salary coming his way. There will be people arguing his age and experience is not worth that. They may not be wrong as it is a subjective argument but McDavid will really set the market. He and Eichel are set to be stars for at least the next decade, so if Buffalo wants in, they will pay for it. You know every agent will be paying attention as it will set a standard for the future players in the sport.
An Eichel extension is probably the most important signing the Sabres will make this off-season, if done. There are reports that Eichel’s party and the Sabres are in discussion, which is a good start. Knowing his cap hit starting in the 2018-19 season will dictate how they handle their RFA’s. As much as fans may like some of the players on that list, GM Jason Botterill cannot keep everyone. Botterill’s credentials as a “cap guy” would come in handy in this situation, although, there will be difficult decisions regardless. How will Eichel’s extension affect the future of Robin Lehner, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larson, or Marcus Foligno, to name the more familiar free agents? Will they have new homes before the next season begins? I would expect at least one, if not two, of the named players to be on another team in the near future, if not this July. Should Botterill decide to explore the trade market for any of the aforementioned players it should be while there is some value. If St. Louis can earn a first-round pick and prospect for Ryan Reaves, I would think Marcus Foligno could fetch something if moved now. But it takes two to make a deal and it is another challenge for Buffalo’s first-year GM.
The truth is, as Jason Botterill alluded to in his introductory press conference, having a #1 center is a huge component of successful teams in the NHL. They win championships! Every team that has won within the last 9 years or so is evidence of that. Yes, you need good defensemen who move the puck out quick to the forwards but Pittsburgh's depth and excellence down the middle won them the last two Stanley Cups. If Buffalo wants a strong tandem at center, they will be paying Jack Eichel big bucks. And when, or if it happens, the rest of the roster will revolve around it.