Jack Eichel will be with the Sabres at least nine more years. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres, Jack Eichel complete massive contract extension

BUFFALO – The Sabres and center Jack Eichel finalized the largest contract in franchise history Tuesday night, an eight-year extension worth a whopping $80 million.

The average annual value of $10 million puts Eichel, 20, in line with some of the NHL’s other dynamic young stars.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, the youngster picked first overall in 2015, one spot ahead of Eichel, signed an eight-year extension worth $12.5 million a season earlier this year. Chicago Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both average $10.5 million a season.

Eichel’s deal is so big he’ll be earning more than some of the game’s all-time great forwards. Sidney Crosby, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, earns $8.7 million a season. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin, who has scored 558 goals with the Washington Capitals, makes $9.5 million.

The eight-year length – Eichel’s contract runs through 2025-26, when he’s 29 – is the longest allowed by the collective bargaining agreement.

Eichel has one year left on his entry-level deal that is set to pay him $925,000. The new contract kicks in for the 2018-19 season.

Eichel, the face of the Sabres, has 48 goals and 113 points in 142 career NHL games over two seasons. He said in early last month he was “adamant” about staying in Buffalo.

“I want to be here,” Eichel said Sept. 5. “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.”

For months, based on the positive words from the Sabres and Eichel’s camp, it appeared an extension would get done before the season, which opens Thursday.

Still, as the summer passed without a contract, it started looking like Eichel might play the season without a new deal, something he said he had no problem doing. His value will almost certainly increase. If Eichel, say, had 35 goals or 80 or more points, or led the Sabres to that elusive playoff berth, what would he be worth?

Ultimately, though, the lure of an $80 million contract just weeks before his 21st birthday proved to be too much.

The seven-year, $52.5 million contract Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly signed in 2015 was previously the franchise’s largest.

Eichel’s value to the Sabres is immense. The high ankle sprain he suffered the day before the season opener last year essentially dashed their playoff hopes, and they finished last in the Atlantic Division.

Ironically, on the eve of the season opener this year, Eichel will likely discuss his new contract.

Eichel returned in fine form last season, compiling 24 goals and 57 points in 61 games. He became the fourth player in franchise history to lead the team in points before his turning 21, joining Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Pierre Turgeon, some of the Sabres’ all-time greats. Eichel’s 0.93 points per game ranked 11th in the league.

The Sabres are 41-21-6 when Eichel records a point and 22-5-1 when he has at least two points in a contest.

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