NHL signing notes: Sabers reward Dylan Cozens for breakout season, bet on potential


Sabers sign center Dylan Cozens to a seven-year, $49.7 million ($7.1 million AAV) extension

Shayna Goldman: With Dylan Cozens’ extension, two trends continue. The Sabers have once again extended a player before their contract expired – that’s the path they’ve taken with Tage Thompson and Mattias Sameulsson before. Second, teams bet on their young players earlier in their careers.

Overall, this is a good thing and a trend that should continue. Every transaction and contract in the NHL carries a certain level of risk. This risk obviously increases when it comes to a long-term commitment like a seven-year contract. But it can be a good risk to take when it’s for a young player, like Cozens, soon to be 22, who has a ton of potential. By betting on him now with this contract, the Sabers are paying him at his peak and focusing on current and future production. That’s much more ideal for a team than a seven-year deal with an aging star, who will likely be on the decline for much of that contract. Even if a signing like this doesn’t work out, teams often have some leeway – moving a player in their early to mid-twenties for a change of scenery may be a more plausible option, instead of having to tie some too active to dump a player or face a buyout.

This contract is a little more than expected for Cozens. While that makes sense given Matt Boldy’s recent extension coming into effect after the ELC, and even what Josh Norris and Tim Stützle signed in Ottawa, I thought there would be more separation in AAV between Cozens and Tage Thompson.

That cap is slightly higher than what teams paid for their second-best center last year, but not far off that position’s average market value of $6.9 million. This is also slightly above average, but within the percentage completion range a team should strive to maintain their 2C. Now the Sabers just need Cozens to consistently play at the number two center level of the average lifetime contender to stay profitable as they try to push back to the playoffs.

So considering 1) his game and potential 2) the league trends around him 3) the Sabers cap situation, it’s a good bet for Buffalo who can become even friendlier as they go. ‘he’s making progress. It also helps increase cost certainty throughout their playoff window, which should also be beneficial in the long run. He only has 169 games of NHL experience under his belt, but his most recent play — 49 games this season — has been the most encouraging. At five on five, he is able to direct the play for his line and put the puck in the offensive side. As the season went on, he got better at turning those entries into shots and scoring chances. And usually he does it away from the best in the team. Cozens only really sees time with the team’s top forwards, Thompson, Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch, on the power play. So to invest so much in him, it certainly helps to see that he can be the central actor of his line instead of a simple passenger benefiting from the actors who surround him.

Signing note: A-

DomLuszczyszyn: Cozens has a phenomenal breakout campaign scoring at a 72-point pace and pacing at 2.2 wins per GSVA. It’s front-row central territory and it’s only his third season – it’s likely just the start of the seventh pick of 2019.

It’s that thought that makes his extension an incredibly savvy one for the Sabers, one that has the potential to be on the best year-end contract list for years to come. Similar to the identical extension signed by Thompson last summer. Either way, Buffalo bet the breakout would be a stepping stone to greater things. It worked perfectly for Thompson, giving the Sabers front office plenty of leeway for these types of big bets. There’s an even better chance Cozens delivers given his pedigree.

Even if that’s all Cozens ends up becoming — a low-end frontline center who can rack up 70 points — that’s already a steal. With the cap likely exploding over the next few years, $7.1 million won’t be much. Right now, there may be a bit of sticker shock given Cozens’ career numbers to date, but expectations for this deal will drop significantly over its lifetime. Right now, that buys around 1.9 wins on the open market. By Year 7, with a salary cap north of $100 million, that could be as low as 1.4 wins. To make Cozens worthwhile, he just needs to be a solid second-line center – and those days already feel like they’re over for him.

This gives Cozens a cushion to regress, which is what our projection model expects with a very cautious anticipation of the deal. That’s not to say Cozens is still a real player at 70 points or two wins — not after 50 games.

That’s reason for maybe taking a break, but it’s more likely the model was putting a little too much stock in Cozens’ first two seasons when he was still looking to break into the NHL. With very few red flags in his numbers this season, it seems much more likely that what we are seeing this season is a more accurate estimate of his true level of talent, knowing that the model struggles to handle big seasons in small groups.

Cozens looks like the real deal with his ability to drive the offense. If bigger and better things happen for the nearly 22-year-old, the Sabers will tease the bank with this one.

Signing note: A

(Photo: Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button