The Buffalo Sabres' struggles through the opening month of this season prompted one NHL insider to suggest they could trade Jack Eichel. During an appearance on Buffalo radio WGR 550's The Instigators (h/t to The Athletic's John Vogl), Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman said he could see the Sabres shopping their 24-year-old captain.
It's been a difficult season thus far for Eichel and the Sabres. With just five wins and 12 points in 14 games, they're at the bottom of the MassMutual East Division. The captain, meanwhile, is tied with Victor Olofsson as their leading scorer with 13 points. A top-10 NHL scorer in 2019-20, he's not even among this season's top 50.
This isn't the first time Eichel's name has surfaced in the NHL rumor mill. Eyebrows were raised when he voiced his frustration last May over the club's years of constant losing just two weeks before the team purged most of its front-office staff. He may not have had a hand in those changes, but his exasperation could've been a motivating factor for the club's ownership.
New general manager Kevyn Adams attempted to improve the roster during the offseason, signing left wing Taylor Hall to a one-year contract and acquiring center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild. Those moves have done little to reverse the Sabres' fortunes. Head coach Ralph Krueger described his players' psychological state as "fragile" following Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
Vogl doubted the Sabres will make a franchise-changing move like trading Eichel because of a dozen games interrupted for two weeks by COVID-19. However, he feels the more the losses pile up, the more trade conjecture will grow.
If the Sabres take that step, it'll likely be in the offseason when teams have more salary-cap space and assets to draw upon. Their asking price will be expensive. They could seek one or two good young NHL players, at least one first-round draft pick and one or two top prospects.
Eichel's contract will also be a factor. He's in the third year of an eight-year deal with an annual average value of $10 million. The Sabres can peddle him to any NHL team because his no-trade clause doesn't kick in until the end of 2021-22. Still, his cap hit could be difficult for most teams to swallow.
Last September we examined the Eichel trade chatter at the time and looked at possible destinations. In the wake of Friedman's comments, it's an opportune time to update our list. Most of the teams included back then didn't make the cut this time because of their limited cap space and a reduced number of tradable assets since last fall.
Detroit Red Wings
The rebuilding Detroit Red Wings don't have much to show for their efforts this season. They're currently mired near the bottom of the overall standings. Acquiring a star such as Jack Eichel could significantly improve their roster and hasten their return to respectability as a playoff contender.
Eichel would immediately become the Wings' franchise player, bringing some long-missing star power to their lineup. No one on their current roster is as gifted offensively or put up numbers comparable to the Sabres star since he entered the NHL in 2015-16. He would provide a much-needed boost to their depth at center, allowing them to employ captain Dylan Larkin's two-way skills on the second line.
With just $36.2 million invested in eight players for 2021-22, the Wings have plenty of cap space to take on Eichel's annual $10 million salary-cap hit. The Sabres could seek a first-round pick as part of the return. The Wings could counter by offering one of their three second-round picks and one of their two third-round picks in the 2021 draft.
The Wings could also offer up winger Anthony Mantha, but the Sabres could prefer Tyler Bertuzzi. A promising young player or two such as Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider or Filip Zadina could also be included in the package.
Los Angeles Kings
On Feb. 18, The Athletic's John Vogl suggested the Los Angeles Kings as a possible destination for Jack Eichel. The once-mighty Kings have fallen a long way from their Stanley Cup glory days of 2012 and 2014 and are rebuilding.
Eichel would give the Kings a marketable young superstar in his playing prime. Longtime center Anze Kopitar is 33, while wingers Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown are in the twilight of their careers. Promising center Gabriel Vilardi has just started his NHL career, while top prospects Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte have yet to make the jump.