The Vegas Golden Knights are in clear need of a number one center, and Buffalo Sabres pivot Jack Eichel is one of the best in the game. More importantly, he’s available. It might seem unlikely, but as the Chicago Blackhawks taught us during their run of three Stanley Cups last decade, you can manage to dig yourself out of cap jail by making tough decisions. Roll up your sleeves, here we go.
Thanks to our friends at PuckPedia, we’re able to really get into the numbers. They are our source for all numbers you’re about to see.
EDIT: I feel compelled to add this note – this is an exercise showing how the Vegas Golden Knights can clear enough room to make the trade happen. Not a trade proposal where I give the farm to Buffalo. Sorry Sabres fans, but the return is going to be lower than you think.
Starting at the top, Jack Eichel comes in at a nice, round $10M cap hit for the next five years. Reports have said that Sabres GM Kevyn Adams is asking for a lot, upwards of six or more pieces in combination for Eichel. While that’s the ask, I struggle to come up with a team that can offer that much in return for a guy who wants/needs disc surgery on his neck and full recovery time. But at 24 years old, Eichel is entering his prime and once healthy could dominate on a team with the cast to support him.
Can you picture a line of Max Pacioretty – Jack Eichel – Mark Stone? I can, and almost no one can touch them. Let’s get to work.
First Round Pick: Check
If you believe that Adams wants a first-round draft choice for this season, Vegas still has theirs. They also have New Jersey’s second-round pick acquired for Nikita Gusev, which is actually the 36th overall pick. So trading this year’s first-round pick isn’t that painful because you’re essentially moving down a few spots from the VGK point of view.
Pieces That Help Buffalo Now: Check
So if Buffalo wants to acquire pieces that matter now I’m prepared to do that. Remember what I said: this is about making tough decisions to improve your team. It’s not a popularity contest. So I’m packaging Reilly Smith (1 year left at $5M) and Chandler Stephenson (3 years left at $2.75M) together as pieces that will help the Sabres now, plus for Vegas, it opens that top center position nicely and allows Alex Tuch to get his shot on the second line that he truly deserves. This personnel move helps both teams.
Pieces That Help Buffalo Later: Check
We can get off in the weeds about whether or not you think the Vegas Golden Knights have traded prospects too eagerly or even if they should have sent Cody Glass and not Nick Suzuki to Montreal for Pacioretty. This is not that discussion. This is time to look at the cupboards and see which player could fill this need for the Sabres. If it were up to me, it would not be Cody Glass. I like Glass, I think just the fact that he has the guts to stand in front on the power play and pay the price means he’ll have a place in the NHL for a long time. He has hands. He can score (on the power play anyway). But it’s pretty clear to me that the Golden Knights brass do not have much stock in where he is development-wise right now. When Stephenson went down in the series against Montreal I thought he’d get a shot. He did not. Alex Tuch was the first-line center… and that tells me all I need to know about what the VGK think about Glass. Knowing that they’ll part with him for this trade.
Vegas Golden Knights Cap Room Check: Check – ish
This is where it gets difficult. Vegas has four UFAs to deal with right now: D – Alec Martinez, F – Tomas Nosek, F – Mattias Janmark, F – Patrick Brown. The team currently has an estimated $5.2M in cap space. On the face of it, After moving the combined $7.75M of Stephenson and Smith you do have the room for Eichel’s salary. But it only leaves you $2,954,166 in cap room for those four guys. You’d like to bring them all back, especially Martinez. Also, Dylan Coghlan is RFA and it’s possible he takes a big step next season and can compete for space full time. There would have to be further whittling of the roster down to be cap compliant on a regular basis – I want no part of dressing five defensemen for a game because of cap problems. But it can be done.
Verdict: Pull The Trigger
If this can be done between the Vegas Golden Knights and Buffalo Sabres, I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Let Eichel get his disc replacement surgery and heal up the way he wants to. While the hesitancy is because of a lack of test cases in North America, it’s been something European athletes have had success with. And now, we’re starting to see some over here too. I think this was the last straw between the Sabres and Eichel, and Vegas should allow the player to pursue this recovery. If Kelly McCrimmon, George McPhee and even Bill Foley have the guts to pull this off, Vegas would instantly be elevated to Stanley Cup favorites alongside Tampa Bay for next season. What derailed the playoffs the last two years? A lack of goal scoring. Jack Eichel is an incredible solution to that problem. Pull the trigger.