Word is there is a re-engagement between the Buffalo Sabres and teams that still have an interest in acquiring center Jack Eichel via the NHL trade market, and the Vegas Golden Knights have everything to gain.
The Golden Knights may or may not be present in those talks, but perhaps they should be in the mix.
Eichel may have a new agent but he has an old neck injury that needs fixing. He wants to go with a procedure that runs counter to the traditional fusion operation the Sabres’ medical staff is asking him to undergo.
There are many questions involving any move to acquire Eichel. Like with any deal, there’s a certain amount of risk involved. But in this case, the amount of risk gets ratcheted up considerably. What if his preferred method for surgery doesn’t work? What if what the Sabres’ doctors proposed isn’t successful either? You’d be acquiring someone whose career could be shortened considerably.
You should be asking why then would the Golden Knights be interested at this point? Here’s why:
A bonafide No. 1 center
Jack Eichel gives Vegas the top center it has lacked from Day One. Yes, William Karlsson had a career year in the inaugural season but Karlsson has not come close to duplicating his 2018 numbers which saw him score a career-high 43 goals. In the last three years, his goal output has been 24, 15 and 14, the last two outputs coming in shortened seasons. Let’s also remember that Karlsson started his first year with the Knights as the fourth line center and eventually worked his way up to the top line with Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault when the team was going through an early-season losing streak and then-coach Gerard Gallant felt he needed to shake things up.
The current No. 1 center on the Golden Knights is Chandler Stephenson, who has played well skating between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. But the Vegas Golden Knights didn’t bring Stephenson over from Washington for him to play on the top line. He’s more of a third-line center.
Eichel’s credentials as a top-line center are already established. You bring him in, you raise your offense’s overall ability to create scoring. He also would give a massive boost to a power play that has struggled mightily. He is close to a point-a-game player and put him with Stone and Pacioretty and watch the necks of opposing goaltenders get sunburned from the red light flashing behind them.
There’s something to be said for star power. And Eichel is an elite talent. The Vegas Golden Knights have not been afraid to pull the trigger on big deals. They did it by acquiring Stone, Pacioretty, and Alex Pietrangelo. They worried about the salary cap later.
Let’s also remember that Eichel is only 24. The chances of his recovering from whichever procedure he undergoes is in his favor. There’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to be an elite player in the NHL.
This is not about acquiring a superstar on the NHL trade market in the hopes of selling tickets. The Golden Knights sell out T-Mobile Arena on a regular basis and have a waiting list to obtain season tickets. This is about winning a Stanley Cup and fulfilling owner Bill Foley’s decree of “Cup in Six.” We’re heading into Year Five. The clock is ticking.
Jack Eichel changed agents last month, signing with Pat Brisson, one of the most powerful in hockey. The Golden Knights have a relationship of sorts with Brisson. They drafted his son Brendan two years ago in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
I’m not saying that connection means anything and that it gives Vegas the inside track. It likely doesn’t. But it also doesn’t hurt to know the person across the table you’re negotiating with.
How does it get done?
After free agency, Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said the team was pretty much dealing. They had re-signed defenseman Alec Martinez. They had moved on from Marc-Andre Fleury. They hit the NHL trade market for Evgenii Dadonov from Ottawa and moved Cody Glass while acquiring Nolan Patrick.
But did all the moves they made get them closer to the Cup? McCrimmon will tell you yes. But what would acquiring Eichel do?
It would likely mean breaking up part of the roster. It would certainly mean giving up prospects and draft picks, something Buffalo would undoubtedly insist upon.
Eichel’s AAV is $10 million. So you’re going to have to move some pieces to clear the cap space to accommodate him. Would the Sabres take Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season, or Marchessault, who has three years of term left, each of who makes $5 million? Would they be willing to take Alex Tuch, who is from the Syracuse area and rooted for the Sabres as a kid? Tuch makes $4.75 million, but he’s out on LTIR following shoulder surgery, and he wouldn’t be available until mid-season.
They would likely want Peyton Krebs or a couple of other prospects. And they would probably insist on Vegas first- or second-round picks in 2022, 2023, or 2024.
Buffalo is probably more interested in prospects and picks. Creating $10 million in cap space is every GM’s Christmas come true. So the Sabres may not be interested in players making $4 million to $5 million when they’re in rebuild mode. The caveat would be taking, say, Smith, then moving him at the trade deadline in February to a team that needs a veteran proven scorer.
The key would be making the money work. So that means two players from the current NHL roster would have to be moved. It may also require getting a third team or possibly even a fourth involved.
There’s only a handful of the original “Misfits” left from the inaugural season and if management is serious about winning the Cup, they probably aren’t going to hang on to a player for sentimental reasons. If that were the case, Fleury would still be a Golden Knight.
But this is a business and winning is everything. Foley is serious about winning and if he thinks Eichel gets him his Stanley Cup, he’s going to do it, even if it means being on the hook for $50 million over the next five years. He can leave the math to team president George McPhee and McCrimmon.