Seemingly out of nowhere the Buffalo Sabres made news across the hockey world when they signed one of their young prospects to a 7-year, $50 million contract extension on Tuesday. It wasn’t Rasmus Dahlin, he still has two years left on his current bridge contract and isn’t eligible for an extension just yet. The same goes for Owen Power who has only burned off one season from his entry-level deal. Nope, the newest member of the $7 million cap hit club ($7,142,857 to be exact) is Tage Thompson.
Yup. The same Tage Thompson that had, until last season, never put up double digit goal totals at either the AHL or NHL level in his career. Granted the 24-year-old, exploded offensively in 2021-22, recording 38 goals while adding 30 assists in 78 games for a woeful Sabres team. He led the team in goals and points last season and the team rewarded him for that performance.
It’s odd that they chose to do it now, though. Thompson has one more season left on his current deal that has a cap hit of just $1.4 million. Following that deal he would have still been a restricted free agent, albeit one with arbitration rights. If he put up another season like he did last year, who knows what kind of number his agent might throw out there. Still, to boost his salary by almost $6 million a year and lock him in for seven seasons after this one is quite the risk for the Sabres.
You can look at it as them having faith in their player and seeing him as a building block for a young team that is hoping to finally turn things around and start winning again. Well, winning after the month of November that is. Thompson could be the high-scoring forward that pairs well with the defensive nucleus the Sabres are establishing with Dahlin and Power. Add in young forwards with potential like Dylan Cozens, Peyton Krebs, and Jack Quinn that are already in the NHL and future prospects like Matthew Savoie and the future does look bright in Buffalo.
Right now there is plenty of cap space to make a signing like this. The Sabres enter today with more than $19 million in cap space. They clear at least $6 million more next year when Kyle Okoposo’s contract expires. Even with the fact that they will pay Jeff Skinner $9 million a year through the 2026-27 season they aren’t hurting for cap space. However, that kind of room can disappear quickly if some of the youngsters mentioned above pan out and start demanding big pay days of their own.
General manager Kevyn Adams may have to make some choices down the road if Thompson’s contract becomes an anchor. Could signing him today cost him room for Cozens down the road? What if last season was a fluke and Thompson’s numbers dip as time wears on? These are the types of questions that put GMs on the hot seat around the league.
There is also the possibility that $7 million is just going to be the cost of talented young forwards in the future. With the salary cap expected to rise drastically sometime in the near future, might we see more of these types of deals? We’ll have to see what players like Tim Stutzle in Ottawa, Cole Caufield in Montreal, and Alexis Lafreniere in New York sign for in the near future. If they pop around $6 or $7 million then we know that’s the going rate for young, productive forwards. If they sign for less, then it’s more or less Buffalo overpaying for one of their own.
At this point it really doesn’t affect the Tampa Bay Lightning’s future finances that much, although Ross Colton’s agent may have raised an eyebrow at the news. Tampa Bay doesn’t really have any RFAs that match the production Thompson put up last season. Brandon Hagel is signed for two more seasons and has the chance and tools to put up numbers close to what the Buffalo forward did. After all, Hags already has more 20-goal seasons under his belt than Thompson did at a similar age.
Far be it for me to tell any owner or GM how to spend their money, but in the past, it seems throwing out large contracts when you don’t really have to seldom works out well down the road.
Lightning / NHL News:
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Future Hall of Famer. Second best defenseman in the league (per the NHL Network). Soccer team owner. Boat captain? Is there anything Victor Hedman can’t do?
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The Pittsburgh Penguins remain committed to continuity as they spent the summer figuring out a way to keep franchise legends Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. They continued the trend yesterday as they locked in head coach (and former Lightning assistant coach) to an extension through the 2026-27 season.
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I haven’t fired up an NHL video game since their was a Bush in the White House so when I think of strategy it’s usually “mash the buttons” as fast as possible. Apparently these days there is actual strategy in these games. How about that? Also, my favorite part of the clip were the models used for animation diving onto mats on the ice. I could watch a half-hour of that.
It’s the end of an era in Tampa area sports. Once there were many, now there are none. Tyler Johnsons, that is.
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