BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have reached an agreement to sign their franchise player, Jack Eichel, to an NHL-maximum eight-year, $80 million contract.
The team announced the signing on its Twitter account on Tuesday night in a deal reached two days before Buffalo hosts the Montreal Canadiens in the season opener.
The 20-year-old Eichel is entering the final year of his three-year entry level contract and only eligible to become a restricted free agent next summer. The new contract won’t kick in until next season.
The deal was reached after talks had cooled for much of the past six weeks.
Eichel’s agent Peter Fish told The Associated Press that negotiations heated up on Tuesday when the two sides revisited talks after they had cooled for much of the past six weeks.
Fish said Eichel informed him that he was open to taking less money in order to ease the Sabres’ payroll structure and give the team room to sign other players.
Eichel has previously said he’s open to playing this season without an extension.
Eichel was the second player selected in the 2015 draft, one spot behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. The Oilers’ captain signed an eight-year, $100 million contract extension in July, making him the NHL’s top-paid player on a per-season basis.
In averaging $10 million per season, Eichel ties Los Angeles Kings star Anze Kopitar on the NHL list of annual average salaries.
Eichel is coming off a season in which he had a team-leading 57 points and finished second with 24 goals in 61 games despite missing the first two months of the season with a sprained left ankle.
A fraction of a point separated him from collecting a $2 million performance bonus by just missing out on finishing among the NHL’s top 10 in points per game production. Eichel finished 11th by averaging 0.934 points per game, and edged out by Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl who finished 10th by averaging 0.939 points per game with 77 points in 82 games.
Eichel was motivated upon arriving at training camp last month, saying he was focused on being a leader both on and off the ice. He was also blunt in assessing his first two seasons.
“Actually, I think I’ve proven nothing,” he said.
“If you look at what I’ve done, it hasn’t been a whole lot,” Eichel said. “Two mediocre seasons on a losing team.”
Eichel is an all-around centre through his scoring and play-making abilities, while also possessing breakaway speed.
The Massachusetts-born Eichel played just one season at Boston University, where he became just the second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s MVP.
Signing Eichel to an extension this summer was the top priority under newly hired GM Jason Botterill in locking up the franchise’s cornerstone player through 2025-26.
Botterill was hired in May, and replaced Tim Murray, who was fired along with coach Dan Bylsma, after the Sabres missed the playoffs to extend the franchise’s longest post-season drought to six years. The Sabres under Murray and Bylsma were faulted for lacking accountability and structure following an under-performing season in which Buffalo finished 15th in the Eastern Conference and 26th overall.
That was not the expectation for a team that was supposed to be on an upward trajectory since bottoming out by finishing last in the NHL in both 2013-14 and 2014-15.