Updated Landing Spots for Buffalo Sabres Captain Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres' struggles through the opening month of this season prompted one NHL insider to suggest they could trade Jack Eichel. During an appearance on Buffalo radio WGR 550's The Instigators (h/t to The Athletic's John Vogl), Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said he could see the Sabres shopping their 24-year-old captain.
It's been a difficult season thus far for Eichel and the Sabres. With just five wins and 12 points in 14 games, they're at the bottom of the MassMutual East Division. The captain, meanwhile, is tied with Victor Olofsson as their leading scorer with 13 points. A top-10 NHL scorer in 2019-20, he's not even among this season's top 50.
This isn't the first time Eichel's name has surfaced in the NHL rumor mill. Eyebrows were raised when he voiced his frustration last May over the club's years of constant losing just two weeks before the team purged most of its front-office staff. He may not have had a hand in those changes, but his exasperation could've been a motivating factor for the club's ownership.
New general manager Kevyn Adams attempted to improve the roster during the offseason, signing left wing Taylor Hall to a one-year contract and acquiring center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild. Those moves have done little to reverse the Sabres' fortunes. Head coach Ralph Krueger described his players' psychological state as "fragile" following Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Vogl doubted the Sabres will make a franchise-changing move like trading Eichel because of a dozen games interrupted for two weeks by COVID-19. However, he feels the more the losses pile up, the more trade conjecture will grow.
If the Sabres take that step, it'll likely be in the offseason when teams have more salary-cap space and assets to draw upon. Their asking price will be expensive. They could seek one or two good young NHL players, at least one first-round draft pick and one or two top prospects.
Eichel's contract will also be a factor. He's in the third year of an eight-year deal with an annual average value of $10 million. The Sabres can peddle him to any NHL team because his no-trade clause doesn't kick in until the end of 2021-22. Still, his cap hit could be difficult for most teams to swallow.
Last September we examined the Eichel trade chatter at the time and looked at possible destinations. In the wake of Friedman's comments, it's an opportune time to update our list. Most of the teams included back then didn't make the cut this time because of their limited cap space and a reduced number of tradable assets since last fall.
Detroit Red Wings
The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings don't have much to show for their efforts this season. They're currently mired near the bottom of the overall standings. Acquiring a star such as Jack Eichel could significantly improve their roster and hasten their return to respectability as a playoff contender.
Eichel would immediately become the Wings' franchise player, bringing some long-missing star power to their lineup. No one on their current roster is as gifted offensively or put up numbers comparable to the Sabres star since he entered the NHL in 2015-16. He would provide a much-needed boost to their depth at center, allowing them to employ captain Dylan Larkin's two-way skills on the second line.
With just $36.2 million invested in eight players for 2021-22, the Wings have plenty of cap space to take on Eichel's annual $10 million salary-cap hit. The Sabres could seek a first-round pick as part of the return. The Wings could counter by offering one of their three second-round picks and one of their two third-round picks in the 2021 draft.
The Wings could also offer up winger Anthony Mantha, but the Sabres could prefer Tyler Bertuzzi. A promising young player or two such as Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider or Filip Zadina could also be included in the package.
Los Angeles Kings
On Feb. 18, The Athletic's John Vogl suggested the Los Angeles Kings as a possible destination for Jack Eichel. The once-mighty Kings have fallen a long way from their Stanley Cup glory days of 2012 and 2014 and are rebuilding.
Eichel would give the Kings a marketable young superstar in his playing prime. Longtime center Anze Kopitar is 33, while wingers Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown are in the twilight of their careers. Promising center Gabriel Vilardi has just started his NHL career, while top prospects Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte have yet to make the jump.
Salary-cap space won't be an issue for the Kings. They've got $56.5 million invested in 15 players for 2021-22. That's enough room to take on Eichel's $10 million cap hit and have enough left over to re-sign or replace their pending free agents.
The Sabres could attempt to pry away a couple of the Kings' good young roster players, with Vilardi perhaps top of the list. Prospects such as Byfield and/or Turcotte could also be part of the asking price. They could also ask for a first-round pick, as well one or two of the Kings' six picks in Rounds 2-4 in this year's draft.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have had some stumbles attempting to return to full-time playoff contender status. They've missed the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons, prompting a change of management and coaching last season. Eichel could provide a jump-start to their rebuilding efforts, giving the Devils a superstar with drawing power at the gate.
Devils fans will recall their club went down this road before, acquiring winger Taylor Hall in 2016. Hall had one great season, winning the Hart Memorial Trophy in 2017-18 and carrying the Devils into the playoffs. He was never the same after a knee injury in 2018-19 and was traded to Arizona midway through last season.
Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald could be leery of repeating that mistake, but Eichel could prove a worthwhile addition. Their current roster contains budding stars Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Mackenzie Blackwood and Ty Smith. Veterans such as Damon Severson and Miles Wood are better players now than they were during Hall's MVP year.
The Devils have $42.9 million committed to 12 players for 2021-22, leaving sufficient room for Eichel's contract and enough to re-sign or replace their free agents. The Sabres could ask for Hischier or Hughes along with a top prospect such as Alexander Holtz and Nolan Foote. They could also seek one of the Devils' two third-round picks in this year's draft along with their first-rounder.
New York Rangers
Sportnet's Elliotte Friedman mentioned the New York Rangers as a possible destination for Eichel during his appearance on Buffalo sports radio WGR550 last Thursday (h/t to Anthony Scultore of Blueshirts Forever). "The team I would look at first is the Rangers," said Friedman, suggesting they and the Los Angeles Kings are two clubs with the assets to swing that deal.
The Athletic's John Vogl reported on Feb. 18 the Rangers looked into acquiring Eichel last fall. They could have concerns at center with Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome slated to become unrestricted free agents at the end of 2021-22. Eichel would give the Blueshirts an unquestioned first-line centerman, allowing them to move Zibanejad into the second-line center spot if they re-sign him.
Salary-cap space isn't an issue as the Rangers have $55.6 million invested in 13 players for 2021-22. They also possess considerable depth in promising young players to draw upon as trade bait. They include 2020 first overall pick Alexei Lafreniere and 2019 second overall selection Kaapo Kakko.
Scultore envisioned the Rangers pitching an offer that includes Strome, prospects Vitali Kravtsov, Morgan Barron, Matthew Robertson and several draft picks. The Sabres, however, will likely insist on Lafreniere or Kakko as part of the deal along with a current NHLer such as Pavel Buchnevich.
Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion made a couple of significant deals during the offseason, acquiring goaltender Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins and signing free-agent winger Evgenii Dadonov. Trading for Jack Eichel, however, would be his boldest move to hasten his club's rebuilding process.
The Senators already have some good young talent in forwards Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, rookie Tim Stutzle and defenseman Thomas Chabot. Eichel would finally address their longstanding need for a top-line center in his playing prime. He'd also give the Senators their first true superstar since defenseman Erik Karlsson was traded to San Jose in 2018.
Like the others on this list, salary-cap space isn't an issue. The Senators have $47.9 million tied up in 14 players for 2021-22. While they haven't spent to the $81.5 million cap this season, they could be willing to invest a little more next season for an opportunity to acquire Eichel.
The Sabres will want one or two of the Senators' good young rostered players. They'll have their eyes on promising Stutzle and perhaps Norris. Young defense prospects such as Erik Brannstrom or Jake Sanderson could also be part of the asking price.
Salary info (as of Feb. 22) via Cap Friendly.