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Hamilton Take2: Sign Rasmus Dahlin to a long-term deal

WGRZ Sabres & NHL insider Paul Hamilton says the Sabres are being shortsighted in not locking up defenseman Rasmus Dahlin long-term.
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, of Sweden, in action against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 25, 2019, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-1. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

With there being so much uncertainty in the NHL, new Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams has decided one-year contracts is the way to go, but what about Rasmus Dahlin? I think the organization is being very shortsighted not getting him signed to a long-term deal.

In my opinion Dahlin is going to only get better and Adams could nail down cost certainty now and not wait for him to blossom into what many believe he will be.

So far Adams has signed Taylor Hall, Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour, Linus Ullmark, Matt Irwin and Tobi Rieder to one-year contracts. Victor Olofsson, Cody Eakin and Curtis Lazar got two-year deals while Zemgus Girgensons and Tage Thompson are signed for the next three seasons.

Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner have eight-year deals and an exception should be made for Dahlin. The contract wouldn’t kick in until next season, so being tight up against the cap this season wouldn’t matter.

In the current environment of a pandemic, the NHL and its teams have no idea when revenues will recover. Hall found out that if he wanted a long-term deal, he wasn’t going to get the money he felt he was worth, so a one-year deal made sense to him. The same could be said for Dahlin. Is it him that doesn’t want to sign for eight years right now because he knows he can play better and likely will be better each and every year? He may feel he can’t maximize his earnings at this point in his career and in this environment, so maybe it’s Dahlin that would rather wait. 

I think Ralph Krueger has to give Dahlin the chance to blossom this season. I believe his minutes need to go up. In his first full season Dahlin played all 82 games and had nine goals and 35 assists for 44 points. In just 59 games last year, the kid had one more assist and just four fewer points. If you project last year’s numbers over 82 games, it would come out to six goals and 50 assists for 56 points. His .68 points per game ranked him 15th amongst NHL defensemen.

I saw an awful lot of improvement in Dahlin’s game as the season went on. It all started Nov. 16 during a home game against Ottawa. Dahlin was having a really tough night and quite honestly a really tough season. Krueger sat him for the third period and the captain, Eichel sat next to him on the bench, put his arm around him and talked to him for an extended period of time. The next night they were in Chicago and Dahlin responded with a really solid game.

Dahlin gained the trust of Steve Smith who gave him more ice-time and it wasn’t strange to see Dahlin on the ice for over 20 minutes in a game. Overall Dahlin average 19:18 per game. That ranked him 112th for defensemen overall. He needs to be allowed to take the next step and play more.

Thomas Chabot from Ottawa led all defensemen playing 26 minutes per game. Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi of Nashville was third playing 25:47 per game. In my mind a comfortable place for Dahlin would be in the NHL’s top 34 or 23 minutes per game.

With the signing of Irwin, Buffalo’s depth chart at left defense is Dahlin, Jake McCabe, Irwin, Brandon Davidson, youngster Jacob Bryson who is 23 this month, but only has one season of professional experience and Mattias Samuelsson. Many ignore Irwin thinking Montour will be at left defense, but Irwin is physical and can kill penalties. I think he plays and if nothing changes, Colin Miller sits. The right side depth chart is Henri Jokiharju, Rasmus Ristolainen, Montour, Miller, Will Borgen and Casey Nelson.

Some fans are disappointed in Dahlin’s first two seasons, but I think it’s important to remember, the kid is only 20. Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman had his struggles his first few seasons. Hedman had 55 points in 75 games during his second season. Had Dahlin played a full season, he was on pace for 56. In his second year, Erik Karlsson of the Sharks had 45 points in 75 games.

Dahlin has improved his game in the defensive zone, but it has to improve even more. Hedman is one of the best in every aspect of the game. He told me that Dahlin is going to grow into a defenseman that could be even better than him. He thinks Dahlin will compete for the Norris Trophy for many years. Karlsson isn’t great in the defensive zone, but he is a lot better than he used to be. That’s how I see Dahlin.

During Chicago’s Stanley Cup years it was Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook anchoring the defense. Moving forward I see that for Dahlin and Jokiharju. Keith and Seabrook came up together and Jokiharju is just one year older than Dahlin. Both have the potential to be the defensive anchors for this team for years to come.   

It’s up to Krueger, through Smith to give him the chance. Dahlin is the clear No.1 defenseman on this team. Ristolainen has held that position for many years and has proven time-and-time again that he’s not up for it. The torch needs to be passed.