The Buffalo Sabres are a mess. Of course, this is nothing new for this organization, as they have will be missing the playoffs for the tenth straight season. This brutal stretch ties the Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers for the longest playoff droughts in NHL history.
Back in 2015, it looked as though things were going to soon turn around for this franchise. While they weren’t able to win the draft lottery and select Connor McDavid, they got a very good consolation prize in Jack Eichel who was expected to help them turn things around. As we know now, that hasn’t been the case, though to no fault of Eichel’s.
While he had an off year this season prior to being injured, there is no denying just how good the 24-year-old is. In 375 career games to this point, he has managed 139 goals and 355 points. He is a superstar and is still only getting better. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his team, or his relationship with them.
Speaking with media on Monday morning, Eichel made multiple comments that suggest he wants out of Buffalo. He didn’t answer on whether or not he had requested a trade, but did suggest that he is looking forward to playing next season “wherever that might be”.
Given the numerous trade rumors that have been surrounding the Sabres captain for quite some time now, today’s media avail only helped pour more gas on the fire. It feels like the relationship between the player and the team is irreparable at this point, and it is tough to blame Eichel. Things don’t look like they are going to turn around anytime soon for this organization.
One thing to keep in mind is that Eichel is on a contract that has five more seasons with a cap hit of $10 million. While that contract would be tough for some teams to bring in, every team who wants to would be able to try and acquire him given that he does not yet have a no movement clause. With how his deal was structured, his no movement clause doesn’t kick in until the 2022-23 season, meaning he could be traded anywhere Sabres management pleases.
If Eichel is to get traded this offseason, which I feel is a near guarantee, here are five teams that make a ton of sense:
5. Detroit Red Wings
While being traded to another team who has really struggled in the Detroit Red Wings likely wouldn’t be near the top of Eichel’s wish list, they could very soon be on the up rise due to the fact that Steve Yzerman is the man in charge. The Hall of Famer chose to leave the Tampa Bay Lightning in the spring of 2019 to return to the city where he played his entire 1514 game career.
Though the Lightning did not win a Stanley Cup during Yzerman’s time as their GM, he was the man who put that team together and deserves a ton of credit for their Stanley Cup win in 2020. He is highly regarded as one of, if not the best GM’s in all of hockey, and as a result has many expecting the Red Wings to get things turned around in the near future.
The Red Wings have plenty of talented prospects who would certainly garner interest from the Sabres and GM Kevyn Adams in players like Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, and Jonathan Berggren. What makes Detroit especially interesting is that as of now they will have over $48 million in cap space heading into the 2021-22 season. While they will have to give some of that money to other players, they wouldn’t have much if any issues fitting in Eichel’s cap hit.
4. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames are another team who isn’t being talked about a ton, but could make an Eichel trade happen. This is a team who has had its core questioned for a number of years now, and given that they will miss the 2021 playoffs completely barring a miracle, those questions won’t be going away this offseason.
With the lack of playoff success this team has had in recent years, GM Brad Treliving’s job is very much on the line and he will almost certainly be looking to make a big change to his team. Obviously, bringing in a player like Eichel would be a major move and one that could help him keep job. If they were able to pull this move off, they could turn themselves into serious contenders in the West given that they have a pretty solid roster on paper.
As for trade possibilities, they have some intriguing prospects in players like Jakob Pelletier and Connor Zary. With the core of the Flames not having much success over the years, Treliving would also likely have no problem parting ways with a big named player on his roster such as Johnny Gaudreau or even perhaps Matthew Tkachuk, both of whom the Sabres would certainly be interested in. As of now, they are projected to have just $14 million in cap space for the 2021-22 season, but Tkachuk has a cap hit of $7 million per year, and Gaudreau just less, meaning if one of them were to be included they would have no problem bringing Eichel in.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Speaking in a media avail of his own Monday morning, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he is going to do everything in his power to bring in a number one centerman to help out Patrik Laine for next season. There is no one available who would fit that description more than Eichel this summer, and given his playmaking abilities he could be a great fit with the young Finnish sniper.
While the Blue Jackets don’t have as many intriguing prospects as some of the other teams on this list, they do have guys like Kirill Marchenko, Liam Foudy, and Yegor Chinakhov who all appear to have bright futures ahead of them. What is also interesting from a Sabres perspective is that the Blue Jackets have three first round picks at the upcoming draft, as well as a first round pick in both the 2022 and 2023 draft.
While both the prospects and picks are very interesting, another huge asset the Blue Jackets have is goaltending. It sounds as though they are going to look to move one of Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins this offseason as both are viewed as number one goalies. Though the Sabres do have a good goalie in Linus Ullmark, he is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and has indicated he may want to test the market, meaning he may need to be replaced. Trading for Korpisalo or Merzlikins would certainly work as the replacement.
2. L.A. Kings
The L.A. Kings have what many consider the best prospect pool in the entire league, which would allow them to be very much in the running for Eichel if they choose to do so. With prospects like Alex Turcotte and Quinton Byfield, as well as young players on their current roster in Gabriel Vilardi and Tobias Bjornfot, they have more pieces than almost any other team in the league to offer the Sabres.
Though it doesn’t matter given his NMC, you’d have to think Eichel would be thrilled to head to the Kings. Even though they would have to give up some great prospects to get him, their prospect pool is so deep that they would be left with plenty of young talent to help him turn things around in a hurry. That, along with being able to call a city like L.A. home, would be very exciting for Eichel.
The Kings are expected to have nearly $20 million in cap space this offseason and do not have a ton of players who will need new deals, meaning they wouldn’t have problems bringing in Eichel and his lucrative contract. This is a trade scenario that makes a ton of sense for both sides, and wouldn’t come as a surprise to see happen this offseason.
1. New York Rangers
The team that has seemingly been rumored as the number one destination all season for Eichel is the New York Rangers. While they did just fire Jeff Gorton as their GM last week, their new replacement in Chris Drury would likely be very interested in bringing a player of Eichel’s caliber in for the 2021-22 season.
The Rangers, who were expected to be going through a rebuild just a few short seasons ago, have turned things around very quickly. While they failed to qualify for the 2021 playoffs, they have tons of talent in players like Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox and Igor Shesterkin. On top of that, they have a great prospect pool, led by Nils Lundkvist, and have several young intriguing players who have the potential to be stars in the making in Alexis Lafreniere, K’Andre Miller, and Kaapo Kakko. Simply put, they have many options in terms of what they could offer the Sabres.
As of now, the Rangers are set to have just under $24 million in cap space this offseason, but do have a few restricted free agents in Pavel Buchnevich and Shesterkin who will likely command decent salaries. Even still, that should be more than enough to leave them with space to bring in Eichel. If Drury were able to pull this off, the Rangers would turn into instant contenders moving forward.
This is shaping up to be a wild summer for hockey fans. First, we have the playoffs which are getting started very soon. While it won’t be the same as before, there will be some fans in the stands for all American teams this year, helping it feel like more of a playoff atmosphere than it did in last years postseason.
Things will continue to remain exciting even once the playoffs have wrapped up, as we haven’t seen a player like Eichel moved in a long time. Even if it ends up not happening, you can bet rumors will be flying around all offseason, which will keep hockey fans intrigued all summer long.
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