The Vegas Golden Knights and Buffalo Sabres pulled off a blockbuster trade on Nov. 21, 2021. Jack Eichel was sent to the Golden Knights in exchange for Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs. Additionally, the Golden Knights received Buffalo’s 2023 third-round pick. Buffalo got a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick from the Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup and the Buffalo Sabres missed making the playoffs by one point last season.
What if the trade never happened? Do the Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup with Tuch and Krebs still on the team? Do the Sabres get the one or two additional points needed to qualify for the playoffs with Eichel?
Would the Sabres have made the playoffs with Eichel? Tuch and Eichel had great seasons last year. Tuch had 79 points in 74 games and Eichel had 66 points in 67 games.
Tuch’s best season in Vegas came in 2018-19 when he had 52 points in 74 games. Tuch’s points-per-game went from 0.70 in 2018-19 to 1.06 in 2022-23. Eichel has been right around a point-per-game player since his sophomore NHL season in 2016-17.
Tuch played on a line with Tage Thompson for most of the season. Thompson had a breakout year with 94 points in 78 games. Tuch’s increased scoring output can partially be credited to Thompson’s breakout season. Or is it the other way around? Can Thompson’s breakout season be credited to Tuch’s arrival?
Eichel’s best two seasons in Buffalo came in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Eichel had 160 points over 145 games for an average of 1.10 points per game. In his first full season in Vegas, Eichel’s scoring average dipped slightly to 0.985 points per game.
Eichel surprised many in Vegas with the strength of his two-way game. With Buffalo, Eichel was on the plus side of the plus-minus rating just one time. That came in 2019-20 when he was a plus-5. Eichel was plus-26 last season in Vegas.
Here is why the Sabres could have made the playoffs with Eichel last season. Thompson and Eichel would make a great one-two punch down the middle. That would drop Dylan Cozens to center line three. Victor Olofsson would be the candidate to take Tuch’s right-wing spot on the top line. Olofsson had a respectable 40 points last season which would have gone up based on Thompson’s season.
Scoring would have suffered a bit without Tuch in Buffalo. Greater balance down the middle would offset the scoring loss. The Sabres would have had a net gain of two points or greater and qualified for the playoffs had the trade not happened.
Would the Golden Knights have won the Stanley Cup with Tuch and Krebs? Chandler Stephenson is a great second-line center. William Karlsson is a great third-line center. Nicolas Roy is a great fourth-line center. None of them are candidates to be the top center of a team wishing to compete for a Stanley Cup.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon realized the need of having a top line center that could be a difference maker. Eichel was the right fit.
Tuch is a great winger and his number may hang one day in the rafters where the Sabres play. Krebs is developing and would have had a minor role at best last season in Vegas.
The Golden Knights would have struggled to win the Pacific Division without Eichel. The series against the Edmonton Oilers probably would have had a different ending without Eichel. Winning the Stanley Cup without Eichel would have been nearly impossible.