Jack Eichel Trade Rumors: Sabres Seeking Assets Equivalent to 4 1st-Round Draft Picks

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJune 29, 2021

UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 07: Buffalo Sabres Center Jack Eichel (9) skates with the puck during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders on March 7, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres are reportedly seeking "at least four pieces that would be equivalent of first-rounders" in order to move star center Jack Eichel in a blockbuster trade.

Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported the asking price Monday, and noted the New York Rangers are among the interested NHL teams and have had "preliminary talks" with the Sabres about Eichel, but they're awaiting further medical information after he missed the end of the 2020-21 season with a neck injury.

In his season-ending press conference, Eichel expressed frustration about how the organization handled the treatment of the herniated disk in his neck. His side preferred a surgical procedure, while the Sabres wanted to take the more conservative route of rest and rehabilitation.

"My No. 1 interest and my No. 1 goal is Jack Eichel,” he told reporters. "... You've got to look after yourself, you've got to look after what you think is best for yourself, and the organization has a similar job to do, but it's to look after what's best for the Buffalo Sabres."

He added his main goal was "just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year...wherever that might be."

In turn, the trade rumors that had already started to circulate during the Sabres' struggles en route to their 10th straight playoff-less season kicked into overdrive following the three-time All-Star's comments.

Trying to determine fair value for Eichel could prove difficult for Buffalo and interested teams, though.

The 24-year-old Boston University product is one of the NHL's best centers when healthy. He's tallied 355 points (139 goals and 216 assists) across 375 games since the Sabres selected him with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft.

Eichel has compiled those numbers despite playing on some lackluster Buffalo teams, and there's a real chance he could take his game to an MVP level alongside more talented teammates.

On the flip side, he's coming off an injury that caused him to miss the final two months of the 2020-21 campaign and still doesn't have a definitive treatment plan or timetable for a return to full strength. Opposing general managers will probably also point toward his own remarks to suggest he may want out of Buffalo.

The other factor is his eight-year, $80 million contract. The Sabres will argue teams are acquiring an elite center under team control through 2025-26. Interested front offices will say his $10 million cap hit each season is difficult to navigate in the NHL's uncertain financial waters coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eichel is the Sabres' most valuable asset by a considerable margin. If the team ultimately moves him, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams' opportunity to turn the struggling franchise around will likely hinge almost entirely on the return he gets for the team's current captain.

The equivalent of four first-round picks—the same compensation as the maximum possible via a contract offer sheet to a restricted free agent—is a fair baseline value for a player of Eichel's caliber, but the surrounding circumstances make it unclear whether teams will meet that asking price.

If not, the Sabres may have to grapple with the question of lowering their expectations or asking a clearly disgruntled player to return for the 2021-22 season with no guarantee the team as a whole will be prepared to take a significant step forward.

A resolution figures to come before the 2021 NHL draft on July 23, where Buffalo will make the No. 1 overall pick in a year without a consensus top prospect.