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Cozens Signs Extension, Top-6 Centers Set For Next 7 Years

February 7, 2023, 7:11 PM ET [1428 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Buffalo Sabres have locked up their top-six centers for the next seven years.

Dylan Cozens and General Manager Kevyn Adams agreed to a seven-year, $49.7m contract on Tuesday, per Sabres.com, and now both Cozens and Tage Thompson are under contract through 2030.

Adams has done a masterful job navigating the cap with his two young centers. Based on the average annual value of the Cozens contract, it seems clear that the team used Thompson’s $50 million contract as leverage to keep Cozens below that number. After all, Thompson has 68 points in 50 games, so they no doubt had conversations with Cozens’ representation to say they cannot pay the Yukon native more than their #1C center.

All of this traces back to the calculated risk Adams took in signing Thompson to a lucrative extension over the summer following his breakout 68-point season last year. Many throughout the hockey world were skeptical of the deal due to the Sabres recent history, and there were more than a few snarky, ill-informed commentators who must not have watched Thompson last season.

That deal has worked out masterfully before it has even kicked in. Thompson starts that deal next season.

As for Cozens, the team decided to forgo the bridge-contract approach that they have so often used in recent years. Players like Rasmus Dahlin, Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe and Linus Ullmark were all signed to bridge deals that ultimately either led to higher pay days down the road, or to the player simply leaving town when the opportunity arose. In Cozens, they capitalized on the chance to lock him down throughout his prime, while Cozens will get another shot at a big contract when he is still in his prime at age 29.

Cozens, who will be 22 years old in two days, has been a fan favorite early in his career due to his high motor, tenacity and willingness to stick up for his teammates. Never was this on display more than at the Heritage Classic game against the Toronto Maple Leafs game last winter.

Following a shift in which Auston Matthews crosschecked Dahlin in the throat, Cozens located Matthews in the open ice and laid him out with a clean body check in response. Michael Bunting then tried to jump Cozens, although that turned out to be a bad idea for Bunting who took the worst of that altercation. Cozens was then ejected and watched the rest of the Sabres win from outside the boards.

It was a gesture that Dahlin clearly appreciated, as he told Sabres.com:

"I just want to talk about Cozey, what he did," Dahlin said afterward. "You can really see we're brothers in the locker room. We care about each other. We have something really good going on. Everyone wants to win together and it's fun to be a part of for sure."

The 6’3” forward has taken his offensive game to a new level this season with 43 points in 49 games while primarily playing with two rookies in JJ Peterka and Jack Quinn. There is clearly more room for offensive upside in his game as the players around him acclimatize to the league and find their defensive rhythm. Still, that “kid line” brings great juice to the game even when they’re not scoring.

Analytically, Cozens is a good driver of offensive play, while his defensive effects have suffered a little bit this year. Part of that defensive piece has to do with the high-octane system Granato plays, part of it is Cozens’ inexperience, and the last part probably owes to his inexperienced linemates.

Look for the defensive impacts to improve as Cozens matures and adds more muscle to his still somewhat wiry frame.

Adams’s ability to lockup his two top centers for a combined $14.2m will now have the team positioned to make a trade deadline decision in the coming weeks, depending on how the months games go. The team has great cost certainty and an understanding as to what their cap situation will be in the coming years.
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