Top Trade Packages, Landing Spots for Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres' surprising front-office shakeup on June 16 raised questions about center Jack Eichel's future with the franchise. Two weeks before the Sabres' front-office purge, the 23-year-old Sabres captain expressed his frustration over the years of constant losing.
That doesn't mean Eichel had a hand in those changes or requested a trade. He lacks a no-trade clause for 2020-21 but carries a hefty $10 million annual average value through 2025-26. Nevertheless, the day following the Sabres' front-office clear-out, NBC Sports Boston's Joe Haggerty wondered whether Eichel might be available and what it might cost the Boston Bruins to acquire him.
Kevyn Adams, the Sabres new GM, probably won't part with his young superstar. Eichel is not just the Sabres' franchise player—he's also among the elite centers in the NHL. He finished this season 10th among the league's leading scorers with 78 points.
Pundits such as NHL.com's Dan Rosen and The Athletic's John Vogl dismissed the possibility of the Sabres shopping Eichel. If he were put on the block, both believed the asking price would be high. Rosen felt it would involve "high draft picks, top prospects and at least one key NHL player" to get a deal done.
The Stanley Cup playoffs have pushed the Eichel trade speculation out of the headlines. With the offseason fast approaching and the trade market returning to life, that chatter could resume among the pundits. Assuming Adams is at least willing to entertain offers for Eichel, here's a look at the top five landing spots and what the returns might be.
After another disappointing early playoff exit (the fourth in the past six seasons) by the Calgary Flames, it could be time for general manager Brad Treliving to shake up his roster. Acquiring Jack Eichel would do the trick.
Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau could be in need of a better first-line center. His numbers tumbled from a career-high 99 points in 2018-19 to 58 in 70 games this season. Despite calls by some unhappy Flames followers to trade Gaudreau, he insisted he wants to stay in Calgary during his season-ending press conference.
Eichel would certainly help the 5'9", 165-pound Gaudreau shoulder the offensive burden. His offensive skills would mesh well with those of the diminutive winger. Having been Sabres captain for the past two seasons, he has considerable leadership experience, making him tailor-made to replace aging Flames captain Mark Giordano in a few years.
Connor McDavid was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers ahead of Eichel in the 2015 NHL draft. Having Eichel on the Flames would put the two best players from that draft in the same province, providing additional heat to the legendary Battle of Alberta.
If Eichel is brought in as the Flames' first-line center, Sean Monahan must go the other way. The 25-year-old center has a 10-team no-trade clause. If the Sabres aren't on it, he'd be a good fit as their first-line center
Monahan, 25, is just two years older than Eichel. While he hasn't reached the same offensive heights, he's been consistent, scoring at least 22 goals in each of his seven NHL seasons and 48-plus points six times. His $6.375-million annual average value through 2022-23 would be more affordable for the Sabres, freeing up cap room for other moves.
The Sabres could also insist on the Flames including their first-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft. Another ask could be versatile forward Sam Bennett or promising winger Dillon Dube.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Solid goaltending and a deep defense corps enabled the Columbus Blue Jackets to qualify for the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. While they upset the Toronto Maple Leafs in the play-in round, their popgun offense contributed to their first-round demise at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has a history of swinging surprising deals. He shipped center Ryan Johansen to the Nashville Predators in 2015-16 for defenseman Seth Jones. Approaching the 2019 trade deadline, he acquired center Matt Duchene from the Ottawa Senators.
Landing Eichel would be an eye-catching move to address their offensive woes. He would also quickly become the face of the franchise and the first true first-line center in franchise history. With six seasons remaining on his contract, they wouldn't have to worry about losing him after a couple of seasons as they did with Artemi Panarin to free agency last year. The Blue Jackets have $74.4 million invested in 22 players with restricted free agents Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson to re-sign. That doesn't leave much for Eichel's $10 million cap hit. On Aug. 21, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline reported center Brandon Dubinsky might not play again because of a chronic wrist injury. That could free up $5.85 million if he goes on long-term injury reserve.
Dubois would have to be part of this deal. While not on the same level as Eichel, the 22-year-old is a solid two-way forward who's grown into the first-line center role with the Blue Jackets. He netted 20 goals and 48 points as a rookie in 2017-18, 27 goals and 61 points last season and 49 points in 70 games this season.
The Sabres could also insist upon a goaltender as part of the deal. They have a promising starter in Linus Ullmark, but Carter Hutton struggled as his backup. The Jackets have two good goalies in Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, with the latter earning $4 million annually on a two-year deal.
Kekalainen could be reluctant to part with his first-round pick. Instead, he might have to part with promising center Liam Foudy or KHL winger Kirill Marchenko in the package.
In their 26 NHL seasons, the Florida Panthers have reached the playoffs just six times and advanced beyond the opening round once. After years of near-constant losing, this is a club badly in need of a shake-up.
Like the Sabres, the Panthers also recently underwent a managerial change. Following their elimination from the qualifying round in August, they parted ways with longtime general manager Dale Tallon. On Sep. 2, they announced Bill Zito as his replacement.
If Zito wants to make a big move to prove himself in his new role, acquiring Jack Eichel would certainly do it. Bringing in a superstar would signal to long-suffering Panthers fans that he's willing to make bold decisions to turn this club into a serious playoff contender.
Such a move would be difficult to do with the salary cap remaining at $81.5 million. Ownership could be against making expensive acquisitions after investing $10 million annually last summer on goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
This is where Zito would have to get creative.
Acquiring a player of Eichel's caliber would mean parting with center Aleksander Barkov. The 25-year-old Panthers captain is just two years older than Eichel. He's also among the league's most skilled two-way centers.
Barkov tallied a career-high 96 points in 82 games in 2018-19 and had 62 points in 66 games this season. Barkov's also among the league's cleanest players. A runner-up for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 2015-16, he took home the award last season.
The Finn's talents have mostly flown under the radar toiling for the Panthers. He would immediately replace Eichel on the Sabres' top line, benefiting them at both ends of the rink. He has a full no-movement clause for 2020-21, but perhaps could be persuaded to waive it if Zito is determined to make big changes.
Eichel's $10 million cap hit could be a sticking point for the Panthers. If the Sabres won't pick up part of his cap hit, maybe they would agree to accept defenseman Mike Matheson ($4.875 million AAV) as part of the deal. He struggled this season and might benefit from a change of scenery. The Sabres could flip him in a separate deal or use him to replace restricted free agent Brandon Montour.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are a rebuilding club lacking a superstar in his prime to build around. Defenseman P.K. Subban struggled during his first season with the Devils and isn't the elite blueliner he once was.
Eichel would bring the Devils an instant franchise player. His best seasons remain ahead of him, and he could help bring them instant credibility.
The Devils are also under new management. Tom Fitzgerald took over as interim general manager in January and became their full-time GM on July 9. His ability to stabilize the organization and his shrewd deals at the trade deadline were among the reasons cited by Devils managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer for keeping him in that role.
Fitzgerald could put an immediate stamp on the Devils by acquiring Eichel. His club carries three first-round picks to draw upon for trade bait. With $55.2 million invested in 13 players for 2020-21, the Devils GM has the salary-cap space to absorb Eichel's $10 million cap hit.
Nico Hischier would have to be the centerpiece of the return to the Sabres. The 21-year-old center was the first overall pick in the 2017 draft. He netted 52 points in 82 games as a rookie in 2017-18. Injuries limited him to 47 points in 69 games in his sophomore season and 36 points in 58 games this season. Nevertheless, he can handle the pressure of a first-line center role and will continue to improve.
The Sabres could also ask for promising Jack Hughes as part of the deal, but Fitzgerald probably won't give up two young centers. However, he could draw upon those three first-round picks in this year's draft, one of which is seventh overall. That pick would have to be included.
At least one top prospect could also be part of the asking price. Given the Sabres' need for scoring depth, they could ask for left wing Nolan Foote or forward Janne Kuokkanen.
New York Rangers
After spending the previous two seasons rebuilding, the New York Rangers made considerable improvement in 2019-20. They were in playoff contention when the season was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and close enough to make the cut for the return-to-play tournament.
The Rangers fell short in the qualifying round, but their fans have a lot to get excited about. Left wing Artemi Panarin is a finalist for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Center Mika Zibanejad tallied 41 goals. They have also got lots of promising young talent such as goalie Igor Shesterkin, defensemen Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo and wingers Kaapo Kakko and Pavel Buchnevich.
Eichel would be a terrific fit with the Rangers and would accelerate their rebuild. He could center the first line alongside Panarin and Buchnevich, giving them what would be one of the league's most potent scoring punches. Zibanejad could be moved to the second line, providing a better-balanced attack.
With $67.1 million invested in 15 players, the Rangers would have to shed some salary to make room for Eichel's contract. They could get $8.25 million of wiggle room if goalie Henrik Lundqvist retires or is traded, though the latter option seems unlikely. Buying him out would free up $3 million, per CapFriendly.
The Rangers' best trade bait is the first overall pick in this year's draft. The Sabres could use it to select left wing Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL's Rimouski Oceanic or center Quinton Byfield of the OHL's Sudbury Wolves. Buffalo could then also shop the pick to the highest bidder in hopes of land a first-line center to replace Eichel.
Kakko would also have to be part of that package, as he would provide the Sabres with a good young scoring winger. The Rangers could also include restricted free agent center Ryan Strome in the deal, though the Sabres' recent addition of Eric Staal could make that unnecessary. Still, one can never have enough depth at center.
Assuming Lundqvist doesn't retire and cannot be traded, the Rangers could insist on the Sabres taking another salary off their hands. They could peddle defenseman Brendan Smith, who has a year remaining on his contract at $4.35 million, provided the Sabres aren't on his no-trade list.