B/R NHL Staff Roundtable: Where Should Jack Eichel Be Traded To?
The biggest question of the offseason still remains unanswered: Where will Sabres captain Jack Eichel be plying his trade come the start of the 2021-22 NHL season?
The continued back and forth between Eichel and the Sabres has lasted all summer, with the No. 2 pick overall in the 2015 NHL draft wanting to undergo an artificial disc replacement surgery that has yet to be performed on an NHL player. The Sabres disagree with Eichel and would prefer him to get a more traditional fusion surgery that could sideline him for the majority of this season.
Eichel and his camp have made it clear that they would rather have him on another team, but Sabres GM Kevyn Adams has said he's under no pressure to trade the 24-year-old center.
In other words, we're at an impasse.
A dynamic offensive player, Eichel—if healthy—could change the fortunes of a franchise and be the missing piece of a championship roster.
So where would he fit in best? Our team of B/R NHL writers got to thinking and shared their thoughts on where the three-time All-Star should end up.
Lyle Richardson: Viva Las Vegas!
The Vegas Golden Knights reached the final four of the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of the last two seasons. However, the lack of a true first-line center prevented them from going all the way.
Jack Eichel would be a perfect fit on the Golden Knights' top line between wingers Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. The 24-year-old superstar would also quickly fill the role of franchise player left vacant after Marc-Andre Fleury was traded this summer to Chicago.
Eichel still has to undergo surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. However, the Golden Knights should be willing to gamble on a positive outcome for a player who can help them achieve that elusive Stanley Cup glory.
Absorbing Eichel's $10 million salary-cap hit through 2025-26 would be an issue for the Golden Knights, who already sit just above the $81.5 million salary cap. It would take some creativity from both clubs to make this happen.
On July 27, The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy reported the Sabres' asking price from the Golden Knights was winger Reilly Smith, promising defenseman Nicolas Hague, prospect center Peyton Krebs and a first-round pick.
Smith lacks no-trade protection and has a $5 million cap hit for this season. Perhaps Chandler Stephenson ($2.75 million cap hit) can be substituted for Hague or Krebs if the Sabres are willing to pick up $2.25 million of Eichel's annual cap hit. Maybe a third team will have to get involved to make the cap dollars fit.
Acquiring Eichel won't be an easy process for any club. Nevertheless, fortune favors the bold, and the Golden Knights have never been afraid to make big moves.
Lyle Fitzsimmons: Calgary Calling for Eichel?
Let's say you're the Calgary Flames.
You reached the Stanley Cup Final after the 2003-04 season and were beaten in an epic series by the Tampa Bay Lightning, dropping a gut-wrenching 2-1 decision in a Game 7.
Since then, not so much.
Sixteen subsequent seasons have resulted in just a 50 percent playoff qualification rate—eight makes, eight misses—and those eight makes have yielded just two series victories and precisely zero trips past the second round, causing much consternation to a particularly rabid fanbase.
And, despite the continued presence of high-end talent like Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau up front and the acquisition of big-ticket free agent Jacob Markstrom to mind the net, the Flames managed just 26 wins in 56 games last season while placing fifth in a seven-team North Division.
To suggest you're in need of a jolt is hardly an understatement.
And to suggest an Eichel deal could provide that jolt is certainly not hyperbolic.
A top line featuring him with Gaudreau and Tkachuk on his wings would instantly rank among the league's best, and it'd leave the Flames with a second unit flush with newly signed dual-Cup winner Blake Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane flanking Elias Lindholm.
In other words, as good a top six as there is in the NHL.
How it happens is another question. But not one that's unanswerable.
Any trade from GM Brad Treliving's perspective would include packaging center Sean Monahan, whether directly to the Sabres or elsewhere if Buffalo isn't on his list of preferred destinations.
Monahan makes $6.375 million for each of the next two seasons—about two-thirds of Eichel's annual $10 million paycheck—and would need to go to balance money, no matter the end game. Based on reports about the Sabres' exorbitant asking price, the rest of the package would likely need to include Finnish defenseman Juuso Valimaki and teen center Connor Zary, or something similarly infused with young talent.
A hefty ask? Absolutely. A sizable risk? No doubt.
But it's also the kind of deal that can make a GM's career and refuel an entire organization.
And given their recent history of sputtering, it's an offer the Flames can't refuse to make.
Abbey Mastracco: A Music City Revival for Eichel and the Predators
Jack Eichel should go to the Nashville Predators.
General manager David Poile used the term "competitive rebuild" over the summer, and those rarely work out well. Trying to rebuild while also staying competitive in the NHL typically means a team might be good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to make it out of the first round. Its assets are limited because it parted with younger players to make the postseason.
So what are the Preds doing, rebuilding or just restocking? It seems as though as long as Matt Duchene, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi and Juuse Saros are around, the club intends to try to contend. If it wants to accelerate this "competitive rebuild," then adding Jack Eichel would be a way to do so. Nashville has the cap space to take on his $10 million hit and plenty of draft picks, and he would make the team younger, which is something Poile also spoke about this summer.
The neck injury is still a big question, but Nashville could use this season to develop some of that young talent and surround Eichel with it later.
Eichel would give the Predators significant depth up the middle. Johansen and Duchene give Nashville a good 1-2 punch, but the depth drops off after that. Cody Glass could slot in as the third-line center this season, but he’s been a disappointing first-round pick. The defense in front of Saros needs shoring up, but Eichel is such a solid defensive center that he would certainly be an asset on that end of the ice as well.
There is also a Boston University connection with coach John Hynes, an alum of the Terrier program himself.
If the Predators go for it, then Nashville could be a great place for Eichel to land.
Adam Herman: Bright Lights on Broadway Would Be Perfect for Eichel
Potential trade agreement difficulties aside, it's hard to come up with many reasons Jack Eichel wouldn't want to land in Madison Square Garden.
There are admittedly other teams that might give him a more immediate chance at contending. What the Rangers offer instead, despite some questionable offseason decisions, is a team undoubtedly on the rise. Not just for next season, but long-term. For the next five years of his contract, Eichel would be with a team that has very clear aspirations for not just making the playoffs, but contending, and has a number of players who, at least in theory, lend legitimate credibility to that path.
Specific to Eichel's playing interests, it's hard to imagine many other teams offering better options for linemate support. He'd more or less have his choice of wingers in Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider. All of whom are either All-Star-caliber scorers or have easily identifiable potential to eventually be.
And while Eichel would become a big deal in New York City and arguably the team's best player, the burden of attention wouldn't fall solely on his shoulders as it has in Buffalo and might in other destinations such as Minnesota or Calgary. The aforementioned Panarin and Lafreniere, as well as Norris winner Adam Fox and top goaltender Igor Shesterkin, would assume much of the pressure.
Finally, the Rangers have a head coach in Gerard Gallant who owns a proven track record and has built a reputation as a players' coach.
The price to acquire Eichel would be hefty in terms of assets and fitting him under the salary cap. The Blueshirts are $7.9 million under the cap and would undoubtedly need to part ways with young talent such as Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones and possibly Filip Chytil, according to the New York Post.
Nevertheless, it's a price worth paying for a star like Eichel.
All salary info via CapFriendly.