Travis Yost: Assessing the Risks of Extending Tage Thompson with Buffalo Sabers

What is a player like Thompson’s crown Deserves?

The Buffalo Sabers decided that the answer to that question was, well, a lot of money. Saber was more than willing to bet the 24-year-old and former first-round pick that he signed him to a seven-year, $50 million contract that came into effect in 2023-24. What makes Thompson such a great player is that, prior to the 2021-22 season, he was struggling to maintain himself as a regular in the NHL. But last season, in a contract year, Thompson’s play exploded on the upside. The winger-turned-center scored 38 goals (68 points) in a new turn, with the added bonus of some new teammates – most notably, the Quick Play Industry winger. Alex cloth.

I think Thompson’s bet by Sabers and Thompson’s rating as a player is great. Apparently Buffalo thinks last season wasn’t a fluke, a new position with better quality teammates (not to mention the physical features!Finally, he realized his potential. There is of course a separate landing case against Thompson. Prior to last season, he was averaging only 10 goals per season — fourth production streak, frankly. If you look at Thompson’s offensive production by year, you can see how different last season was.

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Was it an odd season or a sign of things to come? That’s why I think Thompson is an interesting case study, because every franchise deals with a player like Thompson. Would you risk not betting the player out of fear of regression, or would a double play – which seems like an exceptional performance – would justify his next contract if he stopped?

When we meet these moments, I prefer not to throw data away. Just as we should weigh Thompson’s breakout season appropriately (including changing position), we should weigh the games leading up to last season. More data gives us more clarity, and certainly allows performance measurement.

Let’s take a look at Thompson compared to his peers over the same time frame (2017-22), and we’ll isolate more on younger players like him who might have more upside in their career. The table below shows the players who (a) had common usage rates; and (b) scored at similar rates to Thompson over his 223-game career.

If you include a couple of hidden gems (like the 6th round pick from Calgary Andrew Mangyapan), you get a list of 18 strikers with similar career production to Thompson through 2022. Here’s that list:

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If we compare Thompson to the others, you can see how important last season was. Thompson developed significantly from the fourth offensive line. He did not score like players like Calgary Andrew MangyapanIt certainly wasn’t used in the same way as Dallas Rob Hintz he is. But whether Vancouver Conor GarlandAnaheim troy terryMontreal Nick Suzukior Carolina’s Martin NicasThere are a lot more outstanding mid-six attackers than Thompson’s playing.

Let’s take a look at the contracts of 18 similar players for financial comparison. This wouldn’t be ideal, since positional differences (such as wing versus center) and defensive contributions can change how front desks allocate capital toward players. But there are a number of players who have received similar long-term bets from their franchises. Here is that list:

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Putting aside players on bridge deals and those who expect to get long-term deals in the not too distant future (like Hitnz), we have three well-meaning Suzuki comparisons, Robert ThomasAnd the Jesperi Kotkaniemiwith Garland, who signed earlier, is worth including.

And that’s where I think benchmarking gets interesting. We know players are paid for contributions in all three regions, but we also know that the front desks prioritize scoring from attackers when it’s time to sign a new contract. If we look at these five players and their functional production (we’ll use goals above replacement to assess the total contributions to this piece), how does Thompson’s new deal compare to what’s on it?

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There is an interesting split between these five players. The first two shows – Thompson and Kotkanemi – were aggressively presented before outperforming. In the case of the Buffalo, the Sabers had one good season of Thompson scoring, hoping that would be a harbinger of things to come. Carolina finally saw some Limited registration from Kotkaniemi last year, but their big bet was largely related to luring the player away from Montreal (and the fact that he was a high-quality defensive striker).

This box looks different from the second box, which includes Suzuki and Thomas. Suzuki has three Seasons of the top six productions On a really bad hockey team; Thomas surpassed points production per game a year ago, but he’s also been a clearly better hockey player since entering the league in 2018-19. Both Suzuki and Thomas are ready to do more, and for good reason: We have more confidence in them as good players than we do, say, Thompson and Kotkanemi. Finally, there’s Garland, who appears to be on one of the friendliest contracts you can find in the league – the 26-year-old will now earn less than $5 million a season through 2025-26 despite similar performances, despite signing his deal. a year ago.

So, what did we think of this deal with Thompson and Buffalo? There’s no doubt that the Saber does carry some serious risks here – if Thompson’s play goes Kotkanemi’s way (and he’s a good player, we should note), that’s clearly an overpayment on their books. And that’s with the recognition that Kotkaniemi has been a more productive player, at least so far, than Thompson at Buffalo.

But the Sabers are betting that Thompson’s final season is what we’ll see in the future. A risky bet for sure. But if they’re right – that changing prestige and improving the roster around him is a boon to his play – the Thompson deal would look like a discounted version of Suzuki and Thomas, which is nothing.

More than anything else, this is why benchmarking is so important in every industry, and it’s no different in hockey. We have to assess the opportunities and risks based on what we know today. And while Thompson may prove to be a difficult player to rate, we can look across the league at players with less fluctuating performances to better understand the fair number for both player and team. And more than anything, I’m intrigued to see if Buffalo’s monster bet on their big position is the kind of move that’s upending this organization. It’s always easy to stick with the salary; Committing to a reasonable salary for players who will routinely produce is a perennial challenge, and one that has frayed this Buffalo organization for more than a decade now.

Data via Natural Stat Trick, Evolution Hockey,, Hockey reference