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With Eichel signed, Sabres set for opener vs. Canadiens

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres have a new head coach, a new general manager, and now they have their young superstar under contract for the next nine years.

Two days before the team's season opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, the Sabres and center Jack Eichel agreed on an eight-year, $80 million contract extension that is set to keep the young center in a Sabres uniform through the 2025-26 season.

The second overall pick in 2015, Eichel has become the face of the franchise after two outstanding seasons in the blue and gold.

"This city means so much to me, and I like to think I mean a lot to this city as well," Eichel said at a press conference Wednesday. "This organization has been nothing but great to me since the first day I walked in the doors. I have nothing but great things to say about Buffalo.

"I think I really owe it to them and I think I owe it to myself to do something special here with the group of guys that we have in the room and the organization and the people that are here now."

With the franchise's most pressing issue resolved in time for the start of the season, the Sabres can now focus on turning their fortunes around with Eichel, head coach Phil Housley and general manager Jason Botterill.

Housley and Botterill were brought in this summer after the departures of former coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray.

Housley is looking to bring an up-tempo game to Buffalo -- much like Housley's own style as a player with the Sabres in the 1980s. He has a lot of work to do after the team finished at the bottom of the Atlantic Division in three of the past four seasons.

The Sabres have an intriguing young core of offensive performers, which includes Eichel, Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart.

Buffalo's No. 1 priority this year is improving on defense, which should be helped by newcomers Victor Antipin, Nathan Beaulieu and Marco Scandella.

The Canadiens are looking to build upon a 2016-17 season that saw them finish first in the Atlantic Division before falling in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers.

Fixing the Canadiens' offense was a priority this offseason after coming up short in the postseason one year ago. Montreal had just 11 goals in six games against the Rangers last year.

Montreal lost forward Alexander Radulov but replaced him with Jonathan Drouin. The third overall pick in 2013, Drouin was acquired in a trade from Tampa Bay before signing a six-year, $33 million contract with the Canadiens.

"From Day One, I've really liked what I've seen from him," Montreal captain Max Pacioretty said, according to the team's website. "Even more importantly than that, he's a great kid. He wants to get better and help this team."

Pacioretty led the Canadiens in scoring last year with 67 points (35 goals, 32 assists). Alex Galchenyuk returns as one of Montreal's top weapons, looking to improve upon his 17-goal campaign from a year ago; Galchenyuk had 30 goals in 2015-16.

On the back end, Montreal has two of the best players in the league in defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Carey Price, who won both the Hart (MVP) and Vezina (best goaltender) trophies two years ago.

Updated October 4, 2017

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