Evan Rodrigues is returning to the Buffalo Sabres for next season, and for more money than the organization wanted to pay.
The 25-year-old restricted free-agent winger signed a one-year contract worth $2 million on Thursday, two days after going through an arbitration hearing. An independent arbitrator found a middle ground between Rodrigues' request and Buffalo's offer, which Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported were $2.65 million and $1.5 million, respectively.
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Rodrigues set career highs with 74 games played, nine goals and 29 points last season — his first full NHL season — while averaging the fourth-most time ice time among Sabres forwards. He also showed versatility by playing center at times to compensate for the Sabres' lack of depth, and by logging time on the power play and penalty kill. He took the third-most faceoffs on the team (655).
The Toronto native signed with Buffalo in 2015 as a college free agent after a 61-point senior season at Boston College, where he was a linemate of Sabres captain Jack Eichel. Rodrigues finished second to Eichel for the NCAA lead in points that year. Rodrigues began his pro career with the AHL's Rochester Americans and earned a call-up to Buffalo for the final two games of the 2015-16 season after posting 30 points for the Amerks.
Rodrigues' hearing was the first of four scheduled for Sabres players this offseason. Remi Elie, Linus Ullmark and Jake McCabe are due in Toronto between Aug. 1 and Aug. 4. With just $3.1 million in remaining cap space according to CapFriendly, it seems unlikely the Sabres will be able to bring back all three of them without making other moves.