Sabres Get Fair Value With Dahlin Deal

Today, the Buffalo Sabres signed defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to a brand-spanking new three-year, $18 million contract worth an average annual value (AAV) of $6 million. Although he is arriving in Buffalo on Wednesday, he still needs to clear protocols and won’t be eligible to join the team on the ice until Friday, sources told Buffalo News reporter Lance Lysowski. 

Dahlin is a crucial part of the Sabres’ blue line now and in the future. However, did they overpay for the 21-year-old’s services or get a good deal? That’s hard to say right now. The proof is always in the pudding. But what we can do is look at some contract comparables for the Swede. This can give us a glimpse of what might come for the Sabres in their subsequent contract negotiations and provide some context for how they arrived at the numbers of today’s deal.

Buffalo Sabres Rasmus Dahlin
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

All figures come via CapFriendly. It would seem as though, given the comparisons below, the Sabres managed to get a fair deal for the player. Dahlin will earn at 7.36 percent of the Sabres cap. This figure reflects the cap hit percentage of the cap ceiling when the contract was signed and does not include potential performance bonuses.

Dahlin Contract Comparables

Let’s look at how Dahlin’s contract stacks up compared to other player’s past and current contracts in terms of the similarity of contract length, cap hit percentage, annual average value, games played and total points. It’s a good place to start when trying to see how this contract fits in a league-wide context. Out of all the players listed below, Dahlin has played the fewest NHL games (197), but the rest of the parameters are pretty comparable. Over the course of his career, he has had 18 goals and a total of 107 points.

Zach Werenski – Columbus Blue Jackets 

Another top-pairing, lefthanded defenseman, Zach Werenski is a 24-year-old who signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019 when he, like Dahlin, was also 21. This deal took up 6.14 percent of the Blue Jackets’ cap space at the time and gave him an AAV of $5 million. He has played the most NHL games of anyone on this list (335), and has the most points (189) with 65 goals and 124 assists.

Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He led the NHL in goals among defensemen in 2019-20 with 20, but last season registered just seven goals and 20 points in 35 games. Those numbers were negatively impacted by him missing the last 14 games with a sports hernia injury that required surgery. Prorated over the course of an 82-game schedule—which wouldn’t have happened last season even if he wasn’t injured)—he was on track for a second-best career total of 46 points.

The contract mentioned above was set to expire this season before the Grosse Pointe, Michigan, native inked a massive six-year, $57.5 million contract in July that will bump his AAV to $9.5 million a season through to 2027-28. He now earns 11.76 percent of the Blue Jackets’ cap.

If Dahlin continues to impress and develop into the defenseman the Sabres think he could be, we could see his earnings bump up against this kind of contract size and term or even possibly exceed it. 

Mikhail Sergachev – Tampa Bay Lightning

Mikhail Serhachev is a left-handed defenseman who plays up and down the lineup for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but never in the top pairing because of a guy you might have heard of—Victor Hedman—who is usually in that spot. He has been a strong performer for the team on the back end since he cracked the regular lineup in 2017-18 after a trade from the Montreal Canadiens.

Like Dahlin, he has put up strong points performances, trailing Dahlin’s numbers in 2018-19 and 2019-20 but surpassing them with 30 points compared to Dahlin’s 23 last season. There is a lot to be said about the team surrounding him impacting his points totals, but Sergachev would do well no matter where he plays. In 284 career games, he has 29 goals, 154 points.

Mikhail Sergachev Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Russian tough-guy defender is playing on a three-year, $14.4 million contract worth an AAV of $4.8 million that he signed in November 2020. It has him earning 5.89 percent of the Lightning’s cap space. He’s never scored more than 40 points, which Dahlin has done twice. Given the Lightning’s roster makeup, the offensive upside for the Sabres defender is much higher, along with his opportunities to play more minutes than Sergachev. 

Dahlin earns more now and will likely continue to do so. A relative upsurge in production and importance to his team notwithstanding, when Sergachev’s next deal comes along, these two are not likely to be comparable any longer. That is unless the Lightning overpay to keep him.

Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins

Shifting over to right-handed defenseman, this next one is interesting because, for the Boston Bruins, Charlie McAvoy’s three-year, $14.7 million contract worth an AAV of $4.9 million is a steal of a deal for a guy who last year finished fifth in Norris Trophy voting. That deal has him earning 6.01 percent of the Bruins’ cap. In four seasons, his production has been incredibly consistent at or just under the 30-point mark. In a total of 235 NHL games, he has put up 24 goals and 122 points.

Charlie McAvoy Boston Bruins
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His next deal will likely be more in the range of Werenski’s, give or take a few million. He is in the last year of this contract and will be playing at the top end of his game to prove he is worthy of that kind of money. McAvoy has the d-zone chops and physical side to his game that Dahlin doesn’t. He is a top performer now, but the Sabres might have the better player down the road. McAvoy is in for a big-time raise, and Dahlin’s agent might look to it as a comparison for his next contract.

Sabres’ Get Good Value

What do these contracts tell us about Dahlin? It says the Sabres paid a fair price. Another name I left off the list above but could have easily included is Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. His most productive season was 2018-19 in which, he had 20 goals and 72 points. This is what the Sabres are hoping to get out of Dahlin in the future. An above-average defender with offensive capability. 

For $6 million a season, which is $1 million more than Rielly currently makes (although he is in the last year of his contract and is up for a raise the Maple Leafs might not be able to handle), Dahlin’s new deal isn’t quite a steal for general manager Kevyn Adams, but he didn’t get skunked on it either. It’s down the middle and fair for both sides. 

Dahlin’s defensive game still needs improvement. We might not see that this year with another lacklustre Sabres lineup, and that’s why the two sides negotiated a bridge deal that is on par with the players mentioned above.

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