Buffalo traded their former captain to Vegas on Thursday.
In case you missed it, the Buffalo Sabres ugly divorce with their former captain, Jack Eichel, is now final.
In the middle of the night on Wednesday/Thursday morning, Buffalo traded Eichel (with a third-round pick in 2023) to the Vegas Golden Knights for forwards Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a top 10 protected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Buffalo successfully dealt Eichel, who has a $10 million cap hit, without retaining a cent of his contract. Which is why the return they got for the superstar feels light on face value.
A handful of teams were interested in Eichel, and for obvious reasons. When he’s healthy, Eichel is a legit No. 1 center — and those don’t grow on trees.
The Rangers could have used a player with Eichel’s skillset, and were reportedly among the teams with interest. But they didn’t make it happen. Will they regret not making the move?
The answer: No.
The most important player on the New York Rangers needed a contract after this season and GM Chris Drury got it done. Adam Fox will now be a Ranger for seven years following this season.
However, Fox’s deal puts serious financial strain on the Rangers moving forward. Their window is open right now, but there will need to be some changes to the roster in the near future.
Including Fox’s new $9.5 million cap hit, the Rangers have $25.75 million committed to seven defensemen next season.
Led by Artemi Panarin’s $11,642,857 and Mika Zibanejad’s new $8.5 million cap hit that begins next year, the Rangers have roughly $36 million tied up in eight forwards.
When you include Igor Shesterkin’s $5,666,667 cap hit and more than $3 million in dead money from buyouts, the Rangers have almost $71 million committed to 15 players for the 2022-23 season at this moment.
Which means, if we assume the NHL’s salary cap goes up a modest $2-3 million next year, the rangers will have less than $15 million to sign at least four forwards and a backup goaltender just to have a full roster nightly.
Adding Jack Eichel’s $10 million cap hit would have required the Rangers to not only move money off the books this year, but they would have needed to move someone making a decent amount of money next season and beyond as well.
Who needs money?
The Rangers have been able to agree on extensions with Fox and Zibanejad, but they have a few others who need to get paid still.
Ryan Strome is an unrestricted free agent after this season. His current deal has a $4.5 million cap hit.
Kappo Kaako, Sammy Blais and Julien Gauthier are three restricted free agent forwards who will need a new deal as well.
And Alexander Georgiev is also an RFA in net.
The reality is the Rangers won’t be able to re-sign all of those players at anything close to their market rate and fill out a roster without prospects supplementing their NHL roster significantly.
And one of the reasons the Rangers couldn’t pull the trigger on a deal for Eichel was their last of movable young forwards. Under Jeff Gorton’s leadership, the Rangers invested heavily in defensemen in the draft.
Their current group on the blue line is strong and, mostly, signed for the next few years. Which is great. But the asset depth the Rangers have to work with in the trade market comes on the back end.
Obviously the Sabres wanted young forwards in the deal. And the Rangers will have needs up front next year as they need to fill in the gaps around their expensive centerpieces.
So no, a trade for Eichel wouldn’t have worked. It would have forced the Rangers to make other hard decisions on personnel this year without having Eichel available for at least three more months, and would have led to a really hard decision-making offseason as well.