The Edmonton Oilers had an easy time signing Connor McDavid to a long-term contract extension because everyone had the same objective. The Oilers wanted McDavid for as long as they could keep him, and McDavid was willing to stay in Edmonton for as long as they wanted him.
It made for a simple process: Back up a Brinks truck, make their biggest star one of the highest-paid players in the league, give him the longest contract allowed. The two sides came up with an even number, $100 million, spread the dough over eight years and completed the transaction without breaking a sweat.
Jack Eichel finds himself in a different situation with the Sabres going into the final year of his rookie contract. In a perfect world, the Sabres and Eichel would hammer out a deal and avoid distractions during the season. Unfortunately, their negotiations with their star player are more complex than the Oilers had with their star player.
How much and how long for Eichel?
Well, that's where it gets tricky.
Obviously, the Sabres and their 20-year-old star have different opinions on term and compensation. Otherwise, he already would have signed an extension. GM Jason Botterill earlier this week said talks would continue throughout the summer, which made me wonder if a significant gap separated the two parties.
It's no cause for alarm, at least not yet. Negotiations take time. The key is reaching an agreement that works for all involved. Lopsided contracts usually lead to animosity from the underpaid player or the team overpaying him, and it rarely ends well. Many a player has buckled under the pressure of a big contract, as Ville Leino would attest.
The first step is accepting the fact that Eichel hasn’t performed on the same level as McDavid. Before you start firing off emails laced with the usual expletives, that's not an indictment of Eichel. Nobody was more productive in the NHL last season than McDavid, who won the scoring title with 100 points and was named the league's most valuable player.
Through their first two seasons, McDavid has 46 goals and 148 points in 127 games while Eichel has 48 goals and 113 points in 142 games. Over an 82-game season, it amounts to 95 points for McDavid and 65 points for Eichel. McDavid has become a world-class player while Eichel has been a very good one.
Eichel also is the Sabres' franchise player, which is why they want to lock him into an eight-year contract. It would ensure him playing for the Sabres until he was 29 years old, or four years after he's eligible for unrestricted free agency as a seven-year NHL veteran. He's not getting McDavid money, but keeping him that long isn't going to be cheap, either.
For all anybody knows, Eichel could be inclined to demand a shorter contract and gamble on himself. It gets him back to the bargaining table sooner and likely with more leverage. It gives him enough time to examine whether the Sabres are serious about winning and whether he wants to remain with them. His biggest risk is suffering a serious injury.
A four-year extension would allow him to become a free agent at age 25. If he performed at a high level, he could hit the open market in the prime of his career, capitalize on increases to the salary cap and eventually make more money than McDavid.
How much and for how long for Eichel?
Really, it's anybody's guess. I'll take a stab at the range: Anywhere from $34 million over four years to $90 million over eight years. Something in between – $54 million over six years, perhaps – could make the most sense for both sides. Again, with so many variables, it's little more than a guess.
This isn't Eichel's problem, but it doesn't help him when the Sabres have several players weighing down payroll.
No fewer than five of their nine highest-paid players – Ryan O'Reilly ($11 million), Jason Pominville ($5.6 million), Zach Bogosian ($5.1 million), Matt Moulson ($5 million) and Josh Gorges ($3.9 million) – were overpaid last season.
Kyle Okposo, the top free agent last summer, also could be included on that list. The Islanders knew he would command more than they were willing to pay him and let him walk. He was solid for Buffalo last season before an adverse reaction to medication ended his season, but 19 goals and 45 points in 65 games don't add up to $6 million.
Rest assured Botterill has his priorities in order, confirmed with his decision to make Sam Reinhart wait before starting negotiations with him. Botterill now has time to properly assess the forward rather than handing him a contract based on draft order and perceived potential. I'll say it again: Reinhart is a top-six forward on a poor team, a bottom-six forward on a playoff team.
No matter the player, no matter the team, it always comes back to value. The Sabres see Eichel as their most valuable player, but it could take some work to sign him to an extension. McDavid was the most valuable player in the league and made negotiations seem effortless. Then again, he always made things look easy on the ice.