Published by hockeybuzz.com, 9-6-2017
Jack Eichel isn't too worried about beginning the season without a contract extension. The 20 yr. old face of the Buffalo Sabres franchise is in the final year of his three year entry-level deal and is coming off a season where he lead the team in scoring despite missing the first 21 games. Of course any thought of a hitch in negotiations with the player they suffered two years for sends some Sabres fans into a tizzy, like when it was reported that Eichel said he had "no problem playing the year out" on his current deal.
“If that happens, that happens,” he told the gathered media after yesterday's workout. "Obviously, I'm pretty adamant on staying a Sabre and staying in Buffalo, but it's not something I can really control here. I can just control my play. We know where we stand. We know where the Sabres stand."
Both sides seem to be on the same page when it comes to term as it's expected his next contract will be the league-max eight years. The two big contracts that were handed out over the summer in Edmonton no doubt are having an impact on the salary side of the equation. Oilers franchise center and captain Connor McDavid signed an 8yr./$100 million contract on July 5, with the $12.5 million AAV being the highest in NHL history. Edmonton Oiler forward Leon Draisaitl signed an 8yr./$68 million contract on August 15 with an AAV of $8.5 million. "There’s obviously a new market out there in terms of money paying for young kids," said Eichel. "It’s been set.
"Guys are making an impact on their team and getting rewarded for it. I don’t think the age should be too much of a reason not to get a good deal. If they’ve earned it, they’ve earned it.
With that in mind, most have Eichel's contract in the $10 million per season area but structure should also be taken into account. McDavid's contract starts at $15 million next season and finishes at $10 million the final year yet possibly more important is a structure that, according to CapFriendly, pays out $86 million of his total in bonuses meaning it's lockout-proof.
That's the realm of the of agents, however, and Eichel's keenly aware of that. “Like I told my agent, ‘This is something that you do and you focus on.” he said. “I’m pretty adamant on staying a Sabre and staying in Buffalo. It’s not something I can really control here. I can just control my play.
“I want to be here. I want to be in Buffalo. I want to bring some excitement to this town, and the contract thing will take care of itself. That’s why you hire agents.”
Eichel also said he likes the direction of the team. Both GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma were fired after a rather disappointing season last year and many players have mentioned a fresh start in 2017-18. "With the way things ended," said Eichel, "I think it's good for everybody to have a fresh start. Guys are able to comin in here with some new faces--a new general manager, a new coach--people who haven't made impressions on specific people in the locker room and that can be a good thing for some guys who obviously didn't have the best relationships the last few years."
Last season saw disconnects between the players and Bylsma and internal abrasion in the locker room. It caused the team to finish with a worse record than the previous season after most felt they'd take a step forward.
Defense was the looked upon as the root of the problem with a blueline that was considered to be one of the weakest in the league. Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner, who called out the players for not playing Bylsma's system at one point last season, came back to Buffalo after his off season workouts and defended his defensemen.
“I had no problems with the defensemen but the problem was we really didn't know how to play," he said. "It's not just the defensemen, that's a common misconception, it's how we play as a team." Lehner proceeded to say how he watched the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins play in the playoffs, "everyone plays as a five-man unit and its fast forward and fast back to the defensive zone and I think that's what Phil [Housley] wants. He doesn't want us to play slow, he wants to play fast and everyone attacks and everyone defends and we didn't do that last year.”
Defenseman Zach Bogosian who was the whipping boy for the d-corps woes last season came out and said that he was taken out of his game by Bylsma's approach. He is also looking forward to a fresh start. “I think the last two years (under Bylsma) for me has been frustrating and disappointing. Skating is definitely my strong point. Last year and the year before I felt like I was handcuffed back there. I don't think I got a chance to play my game in the way I know I can play and I'm just looking forward to a new start and play my game which is jumping up into the play.”
Eichel also had similar sentiments about last season and is also looking forward to the upcoming season with a new approach from coach Housley. "From talking to him, the style of play that he wants to instill in us is going to fit in pretty well to my game," he said. "Obviously, pushing the pace, playing with the puck, possessing it, playing fast, all that stuff bodes well for me, and I think it should be a good fit."
Without a doubt some of the best and most exciting Sabres games to watch last season was when they pushed the pace. In Eichel's first game back from injury on November 29, they got into a shinny with Ottawa forcing the Sens to take a number of penalties. Buffalo went 3/5 on the powerplay and came away with a 5-4 win. In December they fell behind 2-0 early in a game against the Los Angeles Kings and came back with four-goal flurry that propelled them to a 6-3 win. Buffalo fell behind in three consecutive games in January only to skate their way to three consecutive overtime victories.
Eichel is an electrifying force on the ice and it would seem as if Housley is going to release the hounds and let this team play to one of their strengths--skating. Last season Eichel lead the team in points despite missing the first 21 games of the season and most expect him to have a breakout season this year. He certainly seems to be confident that it will happen.
From his and his agent's perspective, if he has that breakout season it pushes him closer to the McDavid's salary-level. Perhaps that's part of the reason he has no problem going into this year without a contract extension.
It would seem as if everybody's on the same page with Eichel. Sabres owner Terry Pegula said, "I can tell you this, We want Jack and Jack wants to be in Buffalo." The latter part has been confirmed by Eichel on a couple occasions starting with this quote from an article by Barry Scanlon of the Boston area Sentinel and Enterprise newspaper on August 19:
"I've made it clear that I want to be a Sabre. I want to be in Buffalo when we start winning. I want to reward the city. It's been two great years. I don't want to go anywhere else," Eichel was quoted as saying.
He reiterated that point the other day when he said, "I want to be here. I want to be in Buffalo. I want to bring some excitement to this town."
Dan Fetes of WROC in Rochester caught up with Sabres general manager Jason Botterill at a golf outing last month and Botterill said that "At the end of the day we certainly want to get Jack signed up for max amount and term possible, he has the same belief." The new GM also said that the negotiations "continue to be very positive."
Eichel seems to respect Botterill as well. "He's a real sharp guy. He knows his stuff, he knows what he's doing. I know we all trust him."
All the right words are being said and everybody seems to be on the same page. Hopefully this gets done soon.