Tage Thompson Extension: Sustainability Questions and Long-Term Outlook

Tage Thompson extension

The Buffalo Sabres announced their contract extension of forward Tage Thompson to a seven-year, $7.14 million deal Tuesday evening.

The deal runs through the 2029-30 season and includes a five-team modified no-trade clause that will come into effect in 2024. Thompson, 24, burst onto the scene with a 68-point, 38-goal season in 2021-22, shattering his previous career best and well-over doubling his production from his previous three full seasons combined. His breakout season was a warm-welcomed one; something that provided an already struggling but sometimes promising Sabres squad under Tony Granato an even higher degree of hopefulness for seasons to come.

The large-bodied, strong-shooting Thompson dealt with struggles regarding his on-ice play in each of the previous seasons of his career. Between 2017-18 and 2020-21, Thompson saw limited minutes within a fourth-line role, where he and his linemates were often significantly out-chanced and outproduced. However, culminating changes in the playing environment for Thompson (including new deployment and linemates) resulted in a massively unexpected breakout season. For the Sabres, Thompson’s increase in impact and the upward trend team-wise can be very promising, and an almost seemingly required piece to lock up. Despite this, the Thompson extension appears as quite the investment, considering some concerns in the sustainability of his production longer-term can arise given his style of play and the massive outlier 2021-22 appears for Thompson.

Complex Case of Thompson’s Production

Note: All stats are derived from MoneyPuck and Evolving-Hockey

While the prospect of extending a 25-year-old, 38-goal scorer seems quite exciting, shooting metrics may indicate something less sustainable. Firstly, he scored above individually expected for the first time in his career (by 9.5 goals, at 5v5). This places him among the top 10 in goals above expected (GAx) in the entire league in 2021-22, compared to 2020-21, where he shot at -5 GAx, which placed him as the league’s second-worst shooter that year. Improvement such as described is near unprecedented at this level. Alongside considering the especially high 14.2 individual shooting percentage and 11.3 on-ice shooting percentage, concerns regarding the sustainability of this scoring after 2021-22 are very reasonable.

However, there is some context that could indicate signs of similar production. Thompson finally had a somewhat stable environment, with deployment that finally allowed him to perform with his strengths in mind (his offensive zone starts percentage in 2021-22 were a career-high, while his defensive zone starts percentage was the lowest with the Sabres). The quality of linemates that Thompson played with also increased significantly (in the form of Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner, and Victor Olofsson). Thompson displayed individual improvement in his own game; his frame was leveraged through wall retrievals and he displayed an increased ability to get to high-danger areas and get shots off in those areas. Given these factors do not degrade significantly, Thompson could very well continue scoring goals at a similar rate.

Outlook for Thompson and the Sabres

With now eight total years left as a Sabre, Thompson has a stable spot within the Sabres roster and, heading into his age 25 season, should be able to finish the deal. The outlook for Thompson relative to his dollar value on his extension is quite a bit uncertain. $7.14 million per year is quite a bit for a player whose production hit an unusually sudden high point, with existing concerns on the repeatability of such. Thompson’s most realistic (considering his play style and system fit under Granato) projection is that of a medium-end second-line center with a scoring punch. A realm of 20-30 goals, with a career-high approaching 2022’s totals, is very much possible for Thompson.  

However, expecting this year in and year out without the deployment handed to Thompson in 2022 is a bit foolish. It is obvious previous deployment in its exact form would be a detriment for Thompson. Understanding how linemate quality and deployment impact a player’s production can be rather tricky. Several questions regarding these two environmental factors arise. What about an even higher upgrade in one or both faucets? Worse but still quality? Could Thompson even be a player who can make everyone around him better? These undetermined factors make up a majority of the uncertainty surrounding the deal.

Closing Thoughts For Tage Thompson Extension

The Tage Thompson extension has an uncertain complex to it. Several factors that surround his play, both controllable and uncontrollable for the forward, leaves fans in an unsure state for the future of the contract life of the now promising forward, much contrasting to the confidence placed by the Sabres in extending Thompson. While the risk factor of the contract looms large, several scenarios present themselves as possibilities for Tage Thompson. He may fall back to a reduced, bottom-six role within the roster. Perhaps this past season was the start of a new reign for the career of Tage Thompson and the Sabres as a team. The unfolding of this now uncertain but bright career has begun.

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