Trade talk surrounding Buffalo Sabres superstar center Jack Eichel is reportedly starting to heat up.
According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, negotiations between the Sabres and teams interested in acquiring Eichel are getting "more intense and serious."
LeBrun theorized that if the Sabres are going to move Eichel this offseason, general manager Kevyn Adams would like to get a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft as part of the package, meaning a deal would have to be struck by July 23, the first night of the draft.
After putting up the best numbers of his career in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, hopes were high for Eichel entering the 2020-21 campaign, especially after Buffalo signed winger Taylor Hall in free agency.
The signing didn't work out, as Hall (19 points in 37 games) was traded to the Boston Bruins before the deadline, and Eichel was limited to only 21 games because of injuries.
The 24-year-old didn't look like himself even when he did play, though, finishing with only two goals and 16 assists for 18 points, while posting a disappointing minus-nine rating after being a plus-five the previous year.
The team captain was on the shelf with a herniated disk in his neck, and he recently admitted to the media that he wasn't a fan of the way the Sabres handled his treatment.
Last month, Eichel told reporters the following regarding his injury status, and he seemed to suggest he was open to a trade as well: "There's been a bit of a disconnect from the organization a bit and myself. It's been tough at times. Right now, I think for me the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year wherever that might be."
Frustration had seemingly been mounting even before the injury situation, as the Sabres have not reached the playoffs during Eichel's six-year NHL career. Their last postseason berth was in 2011.
The Sabres finished with the worst record in the NHL this season, which helped them land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft. They also fired head coach Ralph Krueger during the season.
Those factors give the Sabres a chance to have a fresh start, and trading Eichel could contribute to it, even though it would mean Buffalo losing its best player.
Eichel, who signed an eight-year, $80 million contract extension prior to the 2018-19 season, should be highly desirable on the trade market since he is a young, productive player under contract for five more seasons.
Taking the injury-riddled 2020-21 season out of the equation, Eichel was a player on the rise with 28 goals and 54 assists for a career-high 82 points over 77 games in 2018-19. He followed up with a career-high 36 goals to go along with 42 assists for 78 points in 68 games the next season.
Eichel, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft after the Edmonton Oilers took Connor McDavid first overall, has all the tools needed to be one of the top players in the NHL and a perennial Hart Trophy candidate.
Because of that, the Sabres should be able to secure a massive package of picks, prospects and players should they make the difficult decision to part with him.
LeBrun reported that the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers are perhaps the best fits for Eichel.
The Ducks (third), Blue Jackets (fifth) and Kings (eighth) are picking high in the draft, which could make them the most desirable trade partners for the Sabres.
Should Buffalo take defenseman Owen Power with the No. 1 overall pick and then use one of the aforementioned picks from an Eichel trade on one of the top forwards in the draft, the Sabres will have a lot of talented pieces in place for a proper rebuild, which may be the only way to get the floundering franchise back on track.