BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s emergence as a team leader and one of the NHL’s top offensive blue-line threats last season earned him an eight-year, $88 million contract extension on Monday.
With much of the discussions conducted over the summer, the deal was finally completed as the Sabres prepare to open the regular season hosting the New York Rangers on Thursday. The 23-year-old Dahlin becomes the Sabres highest-paid player in terms of annual salary, and has one season left on a three-year $18 million contract, after which he would only have been eligible to become a restricted free agent.
The timing of the signing announced Monday by the Sabres removes any distraction from contract talks lingering into the season. And it signifies the team’s optimism by locking up its most talented player and kicking off a season in which Buffalo finally appears poised to be a playoff contender and end a 12-year postseason drought.
Dahlin expressed his confidence in believing the Sabres are ready to become contenders at the start of training camp by saying: “It’s go time. I mean, we don’t have excuses anymore.”
From Sweden, Dahlin becomes the latest Sabres player management identified as part of its core group and long-term future among a lengthy youth-movement-based rebuilding plan.
It’s a group made up of centers Tage Thompson, who last year signed seven-year, $50 million contract, and Dylan Cozens (seven years, $49.7 million) and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson (seven years, $30 million). And it’s expected to eventually include defenseman Owen Power, the first player drafted in 2021.
Though Buffalo extended its NHL-record playoff drought to a dozen seasons last year, the Sabres’ trajectory points up based on their young, developing talent, and after they fell a mere two points from qualifying for a postseason berth in April.
Entering his sixth season, Dahlin is coming off a year in which he took a major step in displaying signs of the playmaking potential that led to the Sabres selecting him with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft.
His 15 goals were a career-best and most by a Buffalo blue-liner since Alexei Zhitnik scored that many in 1997-98. Dahlin’s 73 points, also a career-best, were tied for fifth among NHL defensemen, and ranked third on the Sabres single-season list behind Phil Housley, who holds the top two spots with 81 in 1989-90 and 77 in 1983-84.
Overall, Dahlin’s 232 career points ranked ninth on the NHL list among defensemen before their 23rd birthday.
Dahlin’s two most productive seasons — he had 13 goals and 53 points in 2021-22 — have not coincidentally come under coach Don Granato, who has loosened the reins on his players in urging them to play without fear of making mistakes. That was a major switch from Granato’s predecessor, Ralph Krueger, who had Dahlin focus on playing a more defensive role.
Much like his production, Dahlin’s confidence has blossomed under Granato, who initially took over as interim coach after Krueger was fired in March 2021. Last season, Dahlin and veteran forward Zemgus Girgensons served as alternate captains, during Kyle Okposo’s first year as captain.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press