Dear Abbey: Grading Your Jack Eichel Trade Proposals
Welcome back to another edition of Dear Abbey, where I don't give you life advice like the real Dear Abby, but I do talk about hockey.
The offseason hasn't yet started but trade rumors are swirling. According to Pierre LeBrun, Jack Eichel trade talks have already begun. This isn't entirely surprising considering the NHL Draft begins July 23, and Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams is probably going to want a first-round pick for his star center. The Sabres failed to get that in the Taylor Hall trade, and draft picks are the best currency possible when it comes to rebuilding.
But before you jump to tell me he's worthless with his neck injury, that's not the case. There is a risk involved in trading for an injured player, especially one that insists a controversial surgery is the only way to fix the herniated disk in his neck. But Eichel will be entering his age-25 season in the fall, so he's in the prime of his career, and he's nearly a point-per-game player. He has size, speed, and skill on and off the puck. He has a rocket of a shot and can take over a game.
He is an elite, playmaking center, and you need those to win.
So, what would an Eichel trade look like? It's tough because there isn't really a precedent with this one. He has five years and $50 million left on his contract ($10 million AAV), so that already eliminates plenty of teams in a flat-cap league.
Here is my best estimation—based on past trades of Phil Kessel, Ryan O'Reilly, Taylor Hall (all three of them) and Tyler Seguin—for what it might cost to get a player like Eichel:
A first-round pick in 2021, possibly a second in 2022 as well
A high-end prospect (potential top-line forward, top-pairing defenseman, recent first- or second-round draft pick)
An established NHL depth player (fourth-line, third-pairing, No. 3 goalie) or a couple of rising American Hockey League players of the non-prospect variety
So, with that said, let's get to grading some of these trade proposals. Class is in session.
Boston Bruins: The Prodigal Son Returns
Bruins get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Zachary Senyshyn and a third-round pick
Someone didn't do their homework. David Krejci is a pending unrestricted free agent. Even if he was signed beyond July, he has a modified no-trade clause. I don't know what teams are on that list, but there probably aren't many high-end veterans like Krejci who would want to waive it to go to Buffalo right now.
Plus, I think a third-round pick is too low. This is probably a first-round-or-bust situation unless it's a big blockbuster.
Boston Bruins, Trade No. 2
Bruins get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Jake DeBrusk, Ondrej Kase and 2022 fifth-round pick
OK, so we're getting a little closer here. Boston is a team that makes sense for Eichel. He's from Massachusetts, and he played at Boston University. Another elite center would undoubtedly keep Boston's championship window open longer.
But can the Bruins afford him? Maybe they can if they see him as a replacement for Krejci, because his $7.25 million will come off the books this summer if that's the case. But all signs seem to point to them re-signing Hall, and they can extend Patrice Bergeron this summer as well with the captain looking at free agency following next season.
The club does have its first-round pick this year, but not its second or third. I think if DeBrusk is included, the package would have to look more like this: DeBrusk, a depth player like Sean Kuraly who is still under 30, and a first-round pick in either 2021 or 2022.
Next year's draft class is loaded while this year's is full of question marks. With the Sabres' history of rushing prospects and their struggles with developing talent, this might not be the year to load up.
Philadelphia Flyers: A Swap of Disappointments
Flyers get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Nolan Patrick, Shayne Gostisbehere and the Flyers' first-round pick next year
So, I know I said next year's draft class is better, and I stand by that. The Sabres could tank and get Shane Wright. Lucky for the Sabres, the new restrictions on winning the lottery don't go into effect until next year.
But I think if this is the package then they need a first-round pick this year. Gostisbehere has been disappointing over the past few seasons and Nolan Patrick is a question mark with his migraine condition, though he does still have a lot of potential if healthy so he checks the box of a recent high pick. It's got to be a first-round pick this year. Who says no? Probably the Sabres.
St. Louis Blues: Feeling Blue About This One
Blues get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Vladimir Tarasenko, low prospect
Eichel's injury doesn't diminish his value nearly this much. Sure, in his prime, Tarasenko was one of the most dangerous wingers in the league. But he'll be 30 next season, and he's had three shoulder surgeries. A low prospect and no draft pick is an insult to the Sabres. Tarasenko, a first-round pick and a prospect might get a little further.
Come on, you can do better than this.
Anaheim Ducks: A Not-so-Mighty Swap
Ducks get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Third overall pick in 2021, Sam Steel, Jakob Silfverberg
The Ducks are rebuilding, but how much patience is there in this process? Coach Dallas Eakins and longtime general manager Bob Murray are only under contract through next season.
Murray built the Ducks into a formidable contender in the mid-aughts. He capitalized on having Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in their prime and an aging, yet effective, Teemu Selanne. He did this by drafting and developing blueline talent and goalies, and adding key players like Ryan Kesler through trades.
Their neighbors to the north, the Los Angeles Kings, won Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, fueling a Southern California rivalry. It was a lot of fun to watch hockey on the West Coast for a few years, especially with the San Jose Sharks further up north as well. But the Ducks haven't been the same since the Nashville Predators defeated them in the 2017 Western Conference Final.
So, where do they go from here? The roster could use an infusion of elite talent. Murray was unable to get a first-round pick for Rickard Rakell or Josh Manson at the trade deadline, but the Ducks do still have their own this season.
Steel is a good prospect and Silfverberg a solid depth winger. I don't know that Anaheim would want to trade that third overall pick, but it might not be a bad idea for a chance at Eichel and accelerating the rebuild.
Minnesota Wild: Wild'n out
Wild gets: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Matt Dumba, Marco Rossi, Jordan Greenway and a first-round pick
So, Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala need better centers. You have to consider this: The 26-year-old Dumba will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Greenway will be a restricted free agent after next season. The Sabres are going to want a long-term return, which they get in Rossi, a 19-year-old Austrian center.
However, there are some hangups here. The Wild have tried to trade Dumba in the past, but any team he's traded to would have to protect him. He has a 10-team no-trade clause that kicks in on July 28, so he'd have to be traded soon. Plus, the Sabres might want a center who is ready to play now, not a developing one like Rossi.
General manager Bill Guerin has a difficult job ahead of him this summer. This should illustrate how hard it is to be a general manager. This is a decent proposal. I've seen worse.
Seattle Kraken: Release the Eichel
Kraken gets: Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner (with agreement to waive)
Sabres get: First-round pick in 2021, second-round pick in 2022
Seattle gets a face of franchise; Buffalo frees up long-term cap space.
Buffalo is not trading two players away just to get two draft picks in return, especially not a captain. Seattle might get a franchise face, but Buffalo will be down two significant players. Literally, the roster will be short two players. They can't plug those holes in the lineup next season with draft picks, especially with this year's draft class.
Actual, real-life players—not draft picks that will turn into players—need to be going back to Buffalo in order to get Eichel. Long-term cap space isn't really a concern for a rebuilding team, and trading Eichel to any team will free up cap space to begin with.
Los Angeles Kings: Recreating 2014
Kings get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Gabe Vilardi, Olli Maatta, first-round pick, third-round pick
The Kings won their Cups in 2012 and 2014 with center depth. Putting Eichel behind Anze Kopitar would certainly give the Kings a strong 1-2 punch up the middle.
Of course, they also won with a group of big, heavy-hitting, yet mobile defensemen and one of the best goalies in the league, but the club has assembled a deep prospect group and are expected to produce players like that again soon. Eichel would make a lot of sense for a team trying to take the next step in their rebuild, and sending back Vilardi would help the Sabres fill the hole at center.
Two draft picks on top of a prospect and a depth player fits the template. It still feels like something is missing, but I can't quite figure out what.
New York Ranges: Empire State Rebuilding
Rangers get: Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt
Sabres get: Kaapo Kakko, Matthew Robertson, Alexandar Georgiev and a first-round pick
This is quite a haul, but I don't hate this trade.
Eichel needs a change of scenery. Some big-market pressure on Broadway might fire him up. Kaapo Kakko might need new environs as well. The second overall pick in the 2019 draft has been inconsistent and slow to develop at the NHL level, though some of that could be attributed to the way he was deployed by former coach David Quinn.
The hiring of Gerard Gallant signaled that the club intends to contend once again, and trading for Eichel would hammer home that message. Nothing against Ryan Strome, but Artemi Panarin, one of the top wingers in the league, needs an elite center to play alongside.
This would be a big statement for the Rangers and newly-appointed general manager Chris Drury. The executive has always kept his cards close to his chest, so it's tough to know what direction he is going to go. Cap-wise, it might be a crunch. There are no big salaries coming off the books this summer, and talented young players like Libor Hajek, Filip Chytil and Pavel Buchnevich are due for raises. Plus, they don't have a can't-miss goalie prospect in the system, and they like the tandem of Igor Shesterkin and Georgiev.
Overall, not bad.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Trade Is One for One
Maple Leafs get: Jack Eichel
Sabres get: Mitchell Marner
I saved this one for last because it's so improbable but so great at the same time. Do you remember those frenetic 23 minutes in the summer of 2016? I sure do.
I was sitting in the Angel Stadium pressbox in Anaheim, filling in for an Associated Press reporter. I remember everything about those 23 minutes outside of what happened in that baseball game. Couldn't even tell you who the Halos were playing.
Three transactions were made that day, and not just small ones. It felt like NBA trades. It was dramatic and exciting. And it all started with the Edmonton Oilers sending Hall to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. Bob McKenzie's tweet will forever live in hockey infamy: "Trade is one-for-one."
Hall was six years removed from being the first overall pick and was a top-five winger in the league. Marner might not be a top-five winger, but he's up there in the top-20. Eichel is a top center in the league. I root for chaos, and this would cause a lot of it.
I'm giving this trade an A, and not because I think it will happen, but because we need more one-for-one deals like this. And I hope three more major transactions follow in the ensuing 20 minutes. Hockey needs more transactional excitement.
Trading Louis Domingue for a seventh-round pick isn't all that interesting (no disrespect to Domingue). Swapping a star for a star in two cities separated by a lake (and yes, an international border) gives us the intrigue that we, as hockey fans, deserve this summer.