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A Jack Eichel Trade? More Difficult than You May Think

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

The ongoing saga that is the Jack Eichel situation with the Buffalo Sabres is a mess, to say the least. The player wants a trade, and as bad as that is for the team, the direction they need to go from here has long been clear- complete the tear down and rebuild, again.

Buffalo started their next attempt at a successful rebuild by trading Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers earlier this summer, netting a first-round pick in 2022 and goalie Devon Levi. The good news for Buffalo fans is that the return here is solid, and should help start the painful process once again. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was also shipped out; he is now a Philadelphia Flyer. In that deal the Sabres picked up an NHL replacement in Robert Hagg along with the number 14 overall pick in June’s draft and a second-round pick in 2023.

Acquiring picks and prospects is how you rebuild, and Buffalo is doing it right- well, at least they did it right with the two players mentioned above. Those were the “easy” deals (no deal is easy, but compared to the Eichel debacle, easy seemed appropriate). There are a number of components associated with a potential trade of the Sabres’ captain that put the team in as bad of a spot as they can be at this point.

First, Eichel asked for a trade. Why is this a negative? It lowers the team’s leverage. Every team around the league knows the player wants out. This isn’t something that fully prevents a team from getting a strong return for the player, but Buffalo is on the defense from the start, trying to pull together this deal.

Second is Eichel’s injury. This is where Eichel’s mind was made up. He wants to have a surgery to repair the herniated disc in his neck, which is worrisome for the team; so much so, they are seemingly preventing it from happening due to concerns that he won’t come back from the procedure. Due to the inability of the team and player to agree on what the best course of action toward recovery is, it is highly unlikely Eichel will be available to start this season (once again hurting his trade value). Teams will be less inclined to move the haul a healthy Eichel would be worth. Frankly, teams may have lost interest entirely. The possibility of “damaged goods” is a massive risk for a deal that would cost as much as the Sabres seem to want, not to mention Eichel’s massive contract.

Speaking of his contract, that is point number three working against Buffalo. Eichel is under contract for 5 more seasons (through the 2025-2026 season) with an annual salary and cap hit of $10 million, per CapFriendly. In a flat cap environment, that number is very difficult to take on for most teams. Almost any team that would be interested in acquiring Eichel now would have to send significant salary back to Buffalo (mainly because a team like Detroit, for example, is in the middle of a rebuild and isn’t a likely destination). The option for Buffalo to retain a portion of the salary remaining could be discussed, but given the length of Eichel’s contract it would be hard to imagine Buffalo eating any money. The math here works against Buffalo because limiting the number of interested suitors for Eichel’s services lowers the chance of a bidding war, and likely lessens the return in the deal.

If that wasn’t all, Eichel’s contract has a no-move clause that kicks in next summer. The final four years of his contract allow him to have full control over where he plays. This, essentially, puts a deadline on this deal for Buffalo. Waiting too long would mean Eichel can veto any destination in the league, for any reason. This would, once again, tie the hands of the Sabres and further lessen their ability to capitalize on moving such a talented player.

There are so many factors working against the Sabres here, as if a disgruntled superstar who has made it quite clear he has no interest playing for the organization wasn’t a bad enough starting point. It’s hard to recall a team, at least in recent seasons, having such a significant trade chip that comes with this much uncertainty. Injury concerns, a massive contract with a no-move clause looming, and a flat cap caused by a pandemic have all contributed to this brutal situation, and it’s hard to see an end in sight. However, things can happen fast, and a deal could come at any time. For Buffalo’s sake, it may be best for them to accelerate the process, get the best deal they can, and move on.

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