Sabres Should Extend John Hayden

Locking up players long-term is usually something reserved for high-profile stars and consistent players that are a key part of a team’s core. Considering the effort and play of John Hayden, the Buffalo Sabres should consider him a part of their core moving forwards. He is everything they have asked him to be, plus more. Giving him an extension makes a lot of sense for a team trying to build a culture and identity.

The extension itself would not need to be lucrative or expensive in any way, but it should span a decent number of years to keep him as a part of the Sabres’ bottom-six. Finding players to fill those spots can be simple enough in free agency, but it makes more sense in this case for Hayden to play full time with the big club and develop chemistry with the future leadership group and his potential linemates.

The Reasons Hayden Deserves It

Hayden has not been a huge offensive producer in his career, and that has not changed while playing in Buffalo. His biggest offensive output in a season came in 2017-18 when he scored four goals and 13 points in 47 games with the Chicago Blackhawks. This season for Buffalo, he has two goals and four points in 52 games. Those numbers are nothing to write home about, but it is not the reason he deserves an extension. Hayden leads the Sabres in penalty minutes (PIM) with 82; the next highest person on that list is Rasmus Dahlin with 58.

John Hayden Blackhawks
John Hayden, former Chicago Blackhawk (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hayden has not shied away from throwing as many hits as possible or from dropping the gloves. He constantly is standing up for his teammates and drawing the attention of the bigger players of the other team. He is not that small himself, standing at 6-foot-3, 223lbs, so he throws his weight around on the ice without remorse. What’s even better about it is that the hits he throws aren’t penalty worthy, so they don’t contribute to his penalty minutes much at all.

He’s a clean player, and he is still young at age 27, so he has a bunch more years to keep up his style of play and even improve on it. Having a reliable grinder to go out on each of his shifts and chip away at the opposition but still having the capacity to set up or finish a play if needed is something the Sabres bottom half has been lacking for many years. Hayden does the right things night in and night out, and rewarding him for it would create a newfound loyalty to this team and would only make him work harder towards the team goals.

Contract Length and Amount

The contract Hayden signed with the Sabres this past offseason was for one year at the league minimum of $750,000. If he were to sign an extension, a bit of a pay raise would be in order, especially if the Sabres lock him up for a good number of years. If they decided to do so, the numbers that seem right to me would be a four-year deal worth a total of around $4M. That would bring a cap hit of $1M per season, so it wouldn’t cost the team much in cap space. Considering how much of it the team has for next season, it would be an easy contract to give out.

Having the contract last between four to five would put him at around age 32 when the contract expires. He would be exiting his prime but would be a seasoned bottom-six physical threat that teams would expect every night. Many other teams have bigger players to deter their superstars from being targeted, and the Sabres could grow one right with the team as they rise to potential playoff contention.

Peyton Krebs Buffalo Sabres
Peyton Krebs, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the young smaller forwards like Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka, Peyton Krebs and many others start to filter into the Sabres’ lineup, the target on their backs grows a little bit larger. With Hayden patrolling the ice for about 12 minutes per night, he would be the perfect man to take the target and put it on himself. He’s a fighter, and a pretty good one as well. He steps up and makes physical plays, and he is relentless whenever he can be.

Every part of Hayden’s game has improved over the course of this season, and the Sabres should reward him for it and show some loyalty to the ones who seem to truly buy into the culture head coach Don Granato has built so far. This team just keeps growing and getting better, and Hayden could be a piece of a playoff puzzle in the near future if things go right.

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