Buffalo’s star is unhappy with the Sabres’ state of affairs. The Devils should go get him — now.
On Monday, Buffalo Sabres superstar center and captain Jack Eichel spoke with the media — and didn’t mince words. He isn’t happy with how his career and the Sabres are progressing, and it appears he may no longer want to be in Buffalo.
Jack Eichel: “I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. The most important thing now is to get healthy and be ready to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 10, 2021
The Sabres announced Eichel was done of the rest of the regular season on April 14 after injuries slowed him down in limited action this year. He was suffering from a herniated disk in his neck. In 21 games this year, Eichel scored only two goals with 19 assists, both huge departures from his career numbers.
Originally the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Eichel scored 137 goals in 354 regular season games with the Sabres. He has yet to appear in a postseason game, however.
Teams that may be interested in Eichel will undoubtedly bank on him returning to the form that made him a star early in his career.
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) May 10, 2021
Why the Devils?
New Jersey has two young centers around whom they’re building in captain Nico Hischier (22) and Jack Hughes (19). But both of them lacks something Eichel brings to the table: size.
Hischier is listed at 6-1 and 175 pounds. Hughes is listed at 5-11 and 175 pounds. Eichel is listed at 6-2 and 205 pounds and plays big. He is also still only 24 years old.
Size is a big part of why the Devils should go after him, but there’s another significant factor: ability to take on Eichel’s contract.
Eichel just completed the third year of an eight-year, $80 million contract. That $10 million cap hit is a big chunk for any team to take on, but the NHL being in a situation where the cap may not move up much (if at all) means there will be teams looking to shed salary to stay compliant next year.
The list of teams able and willing to take on five years of Eichel at $10 million per would be longer if there were more able to do so.
New Jersey has only a shade over $45.5 million committed to their roster for next year, projecting over $36 million in cap space. And they only have three forwards signed beyond the 2021-22 season.
New Jersey could use the ability and size of Eichel. They can also afford him. So they should go all-in to get him.
At what cost?
Whenever you start talking about a blockbuster trade for a player like Eichel (which is rare), a team needs three components to make a deal work: financial ability to pay the incoming player, a situation the player wants to be in and enough picks/prospects/players to build an attractive package for the selling team.
The Devils can check all three of those boxes.
The good news for fans is they likely do have pieces that would at least intrigue the Sabres’ front office.
If we’re looking at draft picks, the Devils have a nice collection to work from. Jersey has two picks (their own and the Islanders’) in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft. They own a pick in every round of the 2021 NHL Draft and have three picks in the fourth round in 2022.
If we look at young players who might interest the Sabres, the first two names that would come to mind are the two young centers Eichel would hopefully come in to compliment: Hischier and Hughes. But New Jersey has a stable of young talent that could also be used in a package.
Yegor Sharangovich, 22, scored 16 goals for the Devils this year. He is a restricted free agent this summer.
Miles Wood, 25, scored 17 goals this year and has one year remaining on his contract that carries a $2.75 million cap hit.
Prospects Tyce Thompson, Dawson Mercer and Alexander Holtz are all under contract and might be considered to make a deal happen.
If the Sabres wanted a veteran on their blue line and the Devils were open to increasing the value of prospects and/or picks to move some money off their books, PK Subban and his $9 million cap hit could be included in a deal as well.
If the Devils started with their two picks in this summer’s first round and built around one of their top forward prospects, potentially including one of Sharangovich or Wood, that might be enough to make a blockbuster happen for the Devils.
Taylor Hall 2.0?
Devils fans will point to the trade to land Taylor Hall 2016 as the last big swing for the team. That deal only cost the Devils defenseman Adam Larsson.
Hall was named the league’s MVP in his second season with the Devils. But that deal did not translate into the level of success many had hoped for when the blockbuster was announced.
During his tenure with New Jersey, Hall appeared in only five playoff games.
He was traded to Arizona during the 2019-20 season for a much larger package than it cost to get him. Jersey received for Kevin Bahl, Nate Schnarr, Nick Merkley, a first-round pick in the 2020 draft (Dawson Mercer) and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 draft from the Coyotes for Hall.
Hall had four years of control on his contract at the time the Devils acquired him with a $6 million cap hit.
We would look at the second trade of Hall as a model for the package to get Eichel more than the first; Edmonton was largely blasted for the perceived lack of value in the initial trade.
The biggest differences here are the size of Eichel’s cap hit, the additional year of control and his position. Centers are more valuable than wingers in the NHL, so the cost would be more to land Eichel here.