By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — The Sabres finally signed restricted free agent Tyler Ennis on Saturday, hours before the NHL locked out the players at midnight.
When the slick center will begin earning his two-year, $5.625 million contract is unclear. With no negotiations ongoing, the work stoppage could be a long one.
As 12 a.m. loomed, teams went on last-minute spending sprees, awarding more than $61 million in new contracts.
Ennis’ short deal – something Sabres general manager Darcy Regier had said was likely – rewards him for compiling 38 goals and 92 points through his first 140 NHL games.
“It allows Tyler to show himself over and short period of time, and then go back and try to sign another contract,” said Eustace King, Ennis’ agent. “We’ll have a better understand of what kind of player he’s going to be.”
Ennis gets $2.5625 million in 2012-13 and $3.0625 in 2013-14, according to the Canadian Press.
Other than struggling through two ankle sprains early last season, Ennis, the 26th overall pick in 2008, has always produced well. The 22-year-old became a top contributor following his recall late in 2009-10, leading the Sabres in playoff scoring. He followed up with a 20-goal, 49-point rookie season.
He morphed into a star after switching from wing to center during the winter, scoring 10 goals and 25 points over 23 late-season games. Whenever the season starts, he’ll almost surely be flanked by Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford, his linemates throughout the torrid run.