BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres have signed All-Star defenseman Rasmus Dahlin to an eight-year contract extension worth $11 million annually, the team announced 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.
Dahlin said after Monday’s practice that he was relieved to have the contract matter settled before the start of the season, and “super, super happy” to be secured as a cornerstone in Buffalo.
“I grew up here as a man,” Dahlin said. “I came here as an 18-year-old, didn’t know much about anything. Learned the language, learned the culture. Then from the beginning I loved the city. So I’ve always wanted to be here for a long, long time, and now it’s going to happen. This is the city I love. Like I said, you grew up in it and you have a special relationship to it, and every time my family comes to Buffalo they absolutely love it. My brother pretty much wants to live here, but he can’t. So it has a special place in my heart, for sure.”
Since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Sabres in 2018, Dahlin has tallied 233 points (46 goals, 187 assists) in 355 career games. He was the 12th defenseman in NHL history to tally 200 points before his 23rd birthday.
“This is a really exciting day for us,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said. “I think we are in a position where we have a player in his prime years that’s committing to this organization for the max term that you can. We know we have a player in Rasmus Dahlin that we think will continue to get better for at least the next nine years, and I think it sends a big statement to our team, our organization, our fans that the commitment that the Pegulas made and what he means to this organization.”
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 a 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.
“It’s really important because you’re putting a puzzle together,” Adams said. “You’re looking at, when we do this, we obviously look at one, two, three years, but we’re also projecting out past that and we have to. Nobody knows exactly where the salary cap is going to go, although most agents think it will just keep going up, but nobody knows. The more certainty you have of where your salaries are structured and how you’re building your team gives you more opportunity to either add from the outside, where it’s making a trade or signing a UFA, or internally, your own guys. If you’re not dealing with all the information, it can make it more challenging.
“For Rasmus to make the commitment to us and for us to make the commitment to him for eight years, especially when you’re starting to see more elite players do shorter deals, really helps us in terms of our planning,” Adams concluded.
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 now 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.
“What was easy for me to see when I did take over the team was that if we’re going to be successful, we have to get Rasmus going,” Granato recalled. “He was one of our if not the most talented guy when that transition happened and I was looking at any way possible, all possibilities of making us a better hockey team.”
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.
“It was pretty clear to me with some hindsight of working with lots of young guys,” Granato said, “that this is a guy that has immense potential and the attributes of compete, hockey sense, love of the game and teammates that they will give us rapid return upon some support and maybe direction.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.