The Jack Eichel Complex: From BUF to YYC

Jack Eichel and his future with Buffalo has been the most talked about topic in the NHL since, arguably, the start of the 2021 NHL season. While it doesn’t take an analyst to notice the relationship between Eichel and the Sabres organization was already frail to start with, the tension between the two parties has ramped up this offseason and exploded a few weeks ahead of the 2022 season. As of September 23rd, 2021, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. As the likelihood of Eichel staying a Sabre continues to dwindle, almost every general manager in the NHL is licking their chops at even the remote possibility of Eichel being on the market. 

If Eichel does end up parting ways with the Sabres, the questions that must be asked next is, how much is a team willing to give up for Eichel, and what is Buffalo’s asking price? The answer is not so simple, as there are many factors that must be taken into account in a move this gargantuan. Nonetheless, I will attempt to break down said factors and answer my own questions in the following article.

The Injury

The most prominent conflict between Eichel’s camp and the Sabre management pertains to an injury sustained to Eichel this past season. In the condensed 56-game season, Eichel missed 35 games due to a herniated disc in his neck. The disagreement between the two parties did not stem from the injury itself but instead arose from the method of treatment and the recovery he would receive. It was rumored that Eichel’s party pushed for surgery right away, whereas Sabres management wanted to pursue a more conservative rehab approach. The biggest concern posed from the team doctors and management was that the surgery has never been performed on an NHL player, making them nervous about the entire situation. This disagreement has stretched both parties’ patience to the limit, as neither side has budged during the offseason. David Pagnotta, Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Period, believed that due to the offseason stalemate Jack Eichel will not be ready training camp or the season opener. Pagnotta’s prediction was correct, as Sabres management recently confirmed that Jack Eichel failed his physical ahead of the 2022 season.

Eichel has not remained quiet when it comes to his most recent injury, as he spoke out about the disconnect during the Sabres final interview of the season. 

“I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt,” Eichel explained. 

“I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. It’s been tough at times. Right now, for me, the most important thing is just trying to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

“Wherever that might be.” A rather ominous and unsettling quote spoken by the Sabres captain. It is clear from the interview that Eichel is open to finding a new home away from Buffalo. 

Built Up Animosity

It’s not just Eichel’s most recent injury that as him fed up with his team, the animosity has been building up since he entered the league six years ago. Since his debut in the 2015-16, Eichel and the Sabres have yet to enter the post season, have finished with a losing record every season, and have two last place finishes in the league. With Eichel aboard, the Sabres highest placement has been a dismal 23rd place. 

A generational talent like Eichel strives for nothing but success however, during his time in Buffalo, Eichel’s talent and effort has been essentially washed away by his team’s lack of accomplishments. In all sports success isn’t instantaneous. Success and achievements are crafted and built. Efficient management, proper coaching, and player development are just a few of many aspects that lead to successful teams. The situation in Buffalo seems to be headed in the opposite direction. During Eichel’s time with Buffalo, three different GM’s (Tim Murray, Jason Botterill, and Kevyn Adams) have tried to make things work but to no avail. The team has brought in players like Jeff Skinner, Taylor Hall, and Eric Staal solely to give Eichel some help up front but not progress was made. 

Until this offseason, throwing Eichel on the trading block would never have been considered, and rightfully so. Eichel was supposed to be the Sabres savior. A 24-year-old forward who is a natural born scorer and arguably a top 25 player in the NHL, when healthy, is incredibly hard to come by. A team must be pretty desperate to shop, let alone trade a player of Eichel’s caliber. However, all signs are unfortunately pointing to this situation. After everything that has occurred between the two parties, I would say that it is now impossible to mend their relationship. Eichel’s failed physical and being stripped from his captaincy seems to be the last straw. 

During a Sabres training camp press conference, GM Kevyn Adams explained his reasoning behind removing Eichel as captain. 

“From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision,” said Adams. 

Tension is billowing out of the KeyBank Center, and the only escape for the Sabres at this point is to shop their former face of the franchise. 

Why trading Eichel makes sense

After six seasons filled with nothing but broken dreams and crushing disappointment it is safe to assume Jack Eichel’s patience as worn razor thin. Sabres management has failed on countless occasions in providing a team that will not only compete but find any form of postseason success. At 24 years of age, Eichel is near if not already in his prime years, but yet remains on a team that is moving more backwards than forwards. 

Sooner rather than later Kevyn Adams needs to accept that Buffalo is nowhere near being a playoff team. They are once again in the selling phase of a rebuild, and its obvious. If Adams truly believed Buffalo had a small hope at making the playoffs, he would never have dealt veteran players Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, Taylor Hall, and even Eric Staal. In return, the Sabres added a 2021 1st round pick (Isak Rosen), a 2021 2nd round pick (Alexander Kisakov), a 2021 3rd round pick (Josh Bloom), a 2021 5th round pick (Viljami Marjala), a 2022 conditional 1st round pick, a 2023 2nd round pick, prospect goaltender Devon Levi, Robert Hagg (D), and Anders Bjork (F). 

Since Adams sent almost all of Buffalo’s core group packing, why leave Eichel? Rebuilds take more than a couple of seasons to complete and by the time Buffalo has even a remote shot at making the playoffs, Eichel may be past his prime – and to be brutally honest – still stuck on their IR. At this point, it makes far more sense to trade Eichel as the Sabres can easily load up on more high draft picks and top prospects to add to their rebuild. On top of that, the Sabres also have lots of talent in their up and coming prospects. The Sabres could easily focus their attention on young guns like Owen Power, Dylan Cozens, Jack Quinn, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and Isak Rosen, who are just a few of many prospects ready to burst through the doors of the NHL. 

Along with the colossal return the Sabres could get by trading Eichel, it also clears up $10 million worth of cap space. $10 million is an invaluable amount of cap space that can be put towards other skaters who would better fit the dynamic in Buffalo. While on the conversation of cap space, might I remind you that the Sabres also have a whopping $9 million/year contract tied to Jeff Skinner for the next six seasons as well. 

From BUF to YYC: Is it doable?

First of all, the chances of a bona fide top-line center and generational talent being on the market is rarer than a first-round victory for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Considering a player of Eichel’s stature does not become available very often, it would not surprise me if every GM in the NHL has at least contacted the Sabres for their asking price. 

As for the Calgary Flames, can a deal for Massachusetts native be done? Absolutely. 

After the conclusion of last season, it was rumored that that Brad Treliving had been looking to mix up the team’s core group and a push for Eichel would be a very viable solution. A deal between the Flames and Sabres could very well be a win-win situation for both parties. Jack Eichel and the Sabres are on the last straw with one another and are looking to send him packing, while Calgary needs a shake-up and their roster is too young for a full-fledged rebuild. And, depending on Buffalo’s asking price, the Flames should have enough assets to make the trade work. However, the big ‘make or break’ factor will come down to how much Buffalo wants as a return and how much Calgary is willing to give up.

Other aspects that must also be brought into question is whether Eichel’s trade value has been lowered due to combination of his past injuries, his most recent neck injury, how he has handled his situation in Buffalo, and how desperate Buffalo has become. I for one DO believe his value has depreciated. While Buffalo is in no rush to deal their star player, I believe they have become more inclined to find a suitable trade. Despite being an elite player in the league, I also believe that teams are concerned with Eichel’s injury history, specifically his neck, and may offer less assets to the Sabres. 

Returning to the Flames’ side of the table; regardless of a drop in Jack Eichel stock, the Flames will still have to give up a hefty chunk of their ‘store’ to make the deal work. Nonetheless, Treliving needs to pull the trigger this time. The Flames have played their core group, without question, for over 6 years. During that time, the Flames have a qualifying round (2019-20) and first-round victory (2014-15) to show for it. Flames management must also understand that the Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan era has ended. Treliving either needs to give them a more minimal role on the team or deal them while they have some form of value attached to them. If the Flames want to find success before their next big rebuild, something needs to give. Something needs to change. This Eichel opportunity is their ‘golden ticket.’

Now I know all of this sounds like a dream come true, but I am sure you all want to know what a move like this will cost the Flames. Obviously, landing a big fish like Eichel will not be cheap. Considering the Sabres are heading into yet another rebuild, it is safe to assume high draft picks and top prospects will be in the pot, as well as a veteran player or two. Eichel’s $10 million contract will also need to fit inside the Flames salary cap (which is a grand total of $912,500 as of October 1, 2021), meaning a minimum of $9 million will have to find its way out the door. 

While I am no trade analyst, I assume the Sabres will most likely ask for a combination of the following:

  • The Flames’ 2022 and 2023 first-round draft picks
  • A second-round draft pick (either 2022 or 2023)
  • A top prospect (or two): Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, Matthew Coronato
  • A somewhat young but experienced NHL skater: Johnny Gaudreau, Noah Hanifin, Andrew Mangiapane, Dillon Dube

While I understand this is a lot to give up, the addition of Jack Eichel will not only improve the on-ice performance for the Flames but will also benefit the entire hockey culture in the City of Calgary. In this instance, the pros far outweigh the cons.

What’s in it for Calgary

It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames have been very lack luster in the scoring department for the last few seasons. The last time a member of the Flames broke the 30-goal plateau was the 2018-19 season where Johnny Gaudreau notched an impressive, a personal best, 99 points (36 goals). Since then, the Flames offensive stats have plummeted. In the following two seasons Gaudreau, the Flames so-called sharpshooter, only scored 18 times in the 2019-20 season and 19 times in the 2020-21 season, albeit they were shortened seasons. If the NHL managed to play a full 82-game season, ‘Johnny Hockey’ would have been on pace to light the lamp 21 times in 2019-20 and 27 times the season after. Not great numbers you want to see coming from your top ‘goal-scorer.’

Now, imagine what could be done with Jack Eichel in the lineup. Skaters like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan would benefit as they would no longer have the pressure of being on the team’s top line. Instead of having to matchup against the other top lines in the NHL they can focus on their offensive game and, hopefully, return to the scoring duo we first began cheering for. Along with lessening the workload for other skaters, Jack Eichel adds the scoring touch the Flames have needed for a long time. If you look at all 32 teams in the NHL, almost every organization has a goal-scoring superstar. Some teams are lucky enough to have even more than one! The Flames, unfortunately, lack a world class superstar on their roster. And unfortunately, Flames fans need to realize that neither Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, or Elias Lindholm fits the bill. While all three skaters are valuable to the team’s success, none of them are game-changing, difference-makers. The Flames are missing their Connor McDavid, or Nathan MacKinnon, or Sidney Crosby. Jack Eichel is the Flames’ X-Factor. If the Flames acquire Jack Eichel, I can almost guarantee a rise in their offensive production and thus number of wins. 

A player of Jack Eichel’s caliber also has the ability to draw players toward him. It’s like how sharks gather if there is blood in the water. Except, this blood is the purest of the pure. The sharks will come in droves. Aside from the Nail Yakupov-level analogy, if Eichel comes to Calgary, quality players will follow. We have seen it happen with guys like McDavid, Crosby, and Ovechkin. Eichel is not much different. Although this isn’t the NBA, players will flock to play with a generational talent like Eichel.

As I mentioned earlier, the arrival of Jack Eichel will not only assist the Flames on the ice but will also benefit the City of Calgary off the ice. 

Adding Eichel to the roster will put Calgary on the map. Much like what Connor McDavid did in Edmonton, I believe the viewership and coverage surrounding Flames hockey will rise if Eichel were to come to Calgary. The same can be said for in-person attendance. Aside from the handful of devoted Flames fans, would less passionate hockey fans watch the Flames because it’s the Flames, or would they watch the Flames because of Jack Eichel? Most likely the latter. This idea would also be a benefit to Eichel as he now has more spotlight then he would have in Buffalo. Being near the Eastern seaboard area, Buffalo must be struggling with viewership and attendance as they are competing against more popular and successful teams than themselves, such as the Rangers, Bruins, and even the Leafs. 

For Eichel, all eyes will be on him as he’s the ‘new guy’ in town. Hockey fans all across the country, but especially Western Canada, would tune in to watch Eichel. On top of that, he would be a hero in Calgary as Flames fans haven’t been able to cheer for a player like Eichel since Jarome Iginla’s era.

For Calgary, business would be booming. Traction, popularity, and income would be expected to rise with the addition of Eichel. Eichel merchandise and ticket sales would skyrocket along with an influx of visitors and gameday attendance. Both parties will benefit by making this move.

Reigniting the Battle of Alberta Rivalry

A final thought to add into the discussion is what would to acquisition of Eichel do for the Battle of Alberta (BOA). In the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Jack Eichel was selected second overall by the Buffalo Sabres. Who was the only player selected before him? You guessed it, Connor-freaking-McDavid. We also need to remember that the 2015 draft was no joke. It was arguably the most talented draft class since 2003. With McDavid and Eichel being the legitimate front runners, and Mitch Marner, Zach Werenski, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal (to name just a few) in a tow. Sebastian Aho in the second round, Anthony Cirelli in the third, Kirill Kaprisov in the fifth, and further down the line, our very own Andrew Mangiapane selected in the sixth round. The 2015 draft class had some talent.

Now, going back to the BOA. Imagine a scenario where the first and second overall draft picks in the 2015 draft are division rivals and are going head to head four times a season. Imagine how many more people will tune in to watch these games. How quick will the seats in the Scotiabank Saddledome and Rogers Place fill up. Viewership, ticket sales, and popularity will also skyrocket. 

This BOA rivalry will not only benefit Calgary and Edmonton, it will be a reason as to why Jack Eichel would want to come to Calgary. In Buffalo, Eichel has struggled. Hard. While one of his biggest rivals, Connor McDavid has found an immaculate amount of personal success in Edmonton. Despite winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2015, Eichel has yet to receive any NHL hardware. On the other hand, and in the same amount of time, McDavid has won three Art Ross Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, and two Hart Memorial Trophies. Eichel desperately wants a piece of the pie, which he won’t get in Buffalo. 

With all the being said, Jack Eichel is going to be fired up to outperform his draft-class rival. One thing we know about almost all professional athletes, is that they don’t like to lose. Eichel will want to be as successful as possible with Calgary until he is the best in the league. 

Both the Calgary Flames and the Buffalo Sabres need a shake up and they need it quick. At this moment in time, the move makes perfect sense for both parties. While the asking price for Eichel is incredibly high, Brad Treliving needs to be ready to throw everything and the kitchen sink at Kevyn Adams to make this deal work. This deal needs to be done for the future of the Flames organization. 

The only issue that may arise after the Flames trade for Eichel is whether Lanny McDonald will let him wear his retired #9.

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