Inside the Sabers: How the team navigated a ‘unique market’ to sign Tage Thompson | Buffalo Sabers news

To prepare for the negotiation of the potentially difficult contract, Buffalo Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams called up several members of the hockey operations team.

The group — which included Sam Ventura, head of analytics at Sabers as vice president of hockey strategy and research — worked together to build a long-term proposal to present to Tage Thompson’s agent, Jerry Buckley.

Except that the answer was not readily available by analyzing other players across the league. No one traveled the Thompson Way to the table. The 24-year-old scored his highest in goals (38) and points (68), both of whom led Cypress last season, after successfully moving to the center during Don Granato’s first training camp as coach. At 6-foot-7, Thompson finally found the time and space to use his superb right-handed shot after four seasons of struggling to do so as a winger.

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“It was a unique market in terms of finding the right place for this deal for both sides,” Adams told The Buffalo News. “There is always a lot of work that gets done. None of those decisions are made in a vacuum. We go through the same process as when we draft players or a free agency making sure we do our due diligence.”

Informal talks on the draft began in July and gained momentum in August until the two sides reached an agreement Tuesday on a seven-year, $50 million extension that keeps Thompson in contract with the Cypresses until the 2029-30 season. It was not scheduled to become a restricted and unrestricted free agent until July 2023 and 2024, respectively, but the deal provides a certain cost.

The club announced, Tuesday, the signing of a seven-year contract with Thompson worth 50 million dollars, to keep the striker, 6-foot-7, until the 2028-29 season.

A league source told The News it’s possible the general managers will be bolder in signing their players to long-term contracts sooner than usual due to what happened in Calgary this summer, when the Flames lost Johnny Goudreau to the Columbus Blue Jackets. And I learned that restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk wanted a trade.

Thompson’s price could have gone up with another 30-goal season to be the first-line center of the Cypresses. His average annual value of $7.142 million would be a bargain if he continued to produce at that rate in his role. There are risks, but Adams and his staff now know how much money they’ll have to spend next summer, when Dylan Cousins, Matthias Samuelsson and Rasmus Asplund will be free agents on hand. Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Bauer should be paid the following season.

For Thompson, the contract protects him in the event of an injury that might affect future earnings and removes any doubt. And for everyone else in the Sabers dressing room, Adams wants the extension to be a message that the club will reward players who are committed to improving and want to be at Buffalo.

“I think one of the things I’ve talked about with our players, both collectively and individually, is that we want to do it the right way and really build this up to prepare ourselves for sustainable success,” he added. “And to do that we have to determine who fits in and who doesn’t, who wants to be here, who wants to be here for the right reasons. And we’ve made it very clear when the players show that and perform, that’s how we’re going to go forward with this group.

“I think for the players, this is probably just an example for our group of what we’ve been talking about. For me, that’s exciting. And we really want our players to perform and be in a position where we can do that more and more.”

The price tag makes sense for both sides, based on Thompson’s relatively short track record of production in the NHL.

An $8 million per season contract wasn’t likely given that other players in that range had performed at a high level for several years, including Nashville Predators winger Philip Forsberg ($8.5 million), New York Rangers center Mike Zibanegad ($8.5 million). ), Carolina Hurricane Center Sebastian Aho ($8.46 million), Ottawa wing Senator Brady Tkachuk ($8.205 million) and San Jose Sharks wing Thomas Hurtle ($8.137 million).

Robert Thomas of the St. Louis Blues Center, 23, is similar to Thompson in that neither of them produced much prior to last season. But Thomas earned a contract worth $8.125 million a year after helping the Blues win the Stanley Cup as a rookie, playing a consistent role on a competitor over several years and producing more than one point per game in 2021-22.

Prior to last season, Thompson had scored 18 goals and just 35 points from 145 games, 104 of which occurred with the Saber after his move from St. Matches under former coaches Phil Husley and Ralph Krueger.

Thompson’s record is also shorter than Nico Hescher ($7.25 million), Clayton Keeler ($7.15 million), Kyle Connor ($7.142 million), Kevin Hayes ($7.142 million), Gabriel Landescu ($7 million) and Nazim Kadri ($7 million). dollar). . But you could argue that Thompson has more long-term upside than anyone in that group.

Uncommon to find a center with his physical attributes and skill set, Thompson was approaching something of unfettered free agency.

There’s always a risk when paying a player based on one or two seasons of production – New Jersey has used strategy with young centers Hisshire and Jack Hughes – but deals like this help build the team in the long-term and ensure a cornerstone of the franchise under contract.

Thompson wanted a long-term signature at Buffalo and the Sabers did not want to lose their leverage in the negotiations by waiting so long for a deal to be completed.

Adams had no reservations. He always believed in Thompson’s talent. When he was struggling with health issues or on the cab team under Krueger in 15 of 28 games during the abridged 2020-21 season, Thompson routinely spoke with Adams about staving off frustration. It was Adams who awarded Thompson a three-year contract in the fall of 2020 after a season in which the 2016 first-round pick missed all but one game due to a shoulder injury.

Now the Saber has a trainer he knows better than anyone else. Granato was the mastermind of a plan to move Thompson to center based on his skill set, which Granato has observed closely since they were together on the USA hockey team development program.

With Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart gone, Thompson paced the Sabers attack in the center and averaged 17:53 of icy time with first-line focus, mostly alongside Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch.

This is the latest example of why Swords weren’t aggressive in free agency in July. Rather than spending their max space by overpaying players available on long-term deals, Adams wanted to save in future seasons when, if all went as planned, it would be necessary to overpay the youth base money.

“Tage has, to us, certainly shown his commitment and value, both on and off the ice,” Adams said. “I’ve talked a lot about our young core and defining that core and building around players who want to be here for the right reasons and believe in what we do. Taj embodies it all.

“We’ve talked a lot about signings, and I’ve talked to (the media) about discipline, making sure we’re doing things appropriately. And one of the reasons we’re doing that is because we have the ability to sign our younger key players for deals like this. We’re also a bit strategic, to be honest. , on the schedule knowing there will likely be other guys next summer where we’ll be in that position. We want to make sure we’re strategic about when and how we get these deals together. That’s why I felt it made more sense for us now.”