It’s a saying as old as time. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. For the Buffalo Sabres, however, just because there is a lot of smoke, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be any fire.
In recent months, trade talk surrounding superstar Jack Eichel has been exhaustive. Every few days the rumor mill spewed smoke connecting Eichel to a team in need of his services. However, despite all of this smoke, no trade materialized in the offseason, despite seemingly every franchise reaching out to the Sabres about making a deal.
This isn’t a surprise, as the situation between the Sabres and Eichel was almost impossible to navigate. First and foremost you had his health, as he was dealing with a complicated long-term injury (to put it mildly) that will keep him on the sidelines for most of if not all of the regular season.
Next, even if he was in perfect shape and ready to play in game one after the trade, this sort of move is incredibly tricky to pull off. Teams rarely give up a player of Eichel’s caliber, and to do so would require a massive payment of roster players, prospects and draft picks to justify any move.
So, due to all of these circumstances, the discussion around Eichel remained just that… a discussion. Teams rightfully inquired about his availability, as a general manager wouldn’t be doing their job properly if they didn’t, but between his current injury status and the cost of such a trade, no one could put it all together before the start of the season.
Sabres Could Find a Desperate Contender to Trade Eichel
As the season started, the trade market seemed to cool off, with no real mention of an Eichel deal grabbing headlines. Now that we are almost 10 games into the 2021-22 regular season, teams are starting to get a good idea about what their roster looks like. If they are starting slow, their general manager may want to swing a big trade early to help reshape their lineup.
This seems to be the case, as the next round of trade talks picked back up between the Sabres and Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
It makes sense that Vegas would be interested in Eichel, as they are a team in desperate need of a Number 1 center and they are hellbent on winning a Stanley Cup, no matter the cost. Also, while Eichel may not be able to start in the near future, his cap hit will be on long term injury reserve (LTIR) for potentially the rest of the regular season, meaning that the Golden Knights could stash a top-10 player in the league off the books, similar to what the Tampa Bay Lightning did with Nikita Kucherov in 2020-21.
However, while a trade like this fits together on paper, there’s plenty of reasons why it may never materialize. Anytime a player is coming off a major injury, their value will be at their lowest, meaning that the offers may simply just not be there for the Sabres. Also if you’re Vegas, Eichel will need to be sidelined until at least the start of the playoffs to avoid cap troubles, meaning that he wouldn’t get the chance to play on the ice with his new team before the games mattered most, or they would need to make more space in order to get his $10 million cap hit on the books.
Besides this, you also have to consider whether or not general managers will be wary about giving up big assets before the all-star break for any player. Two recent examples didn’t end well for the team making the superstar splash, with both the Taylor Hall and Matt Duchene deals going down as big misses for the franchises who ponied up the capital needed to pull off such a deal.
An Eichel Trade Could Happen at Any Moment
So, all this means that Sabres fans should continue to temper the expectations about when a deal for Eichel could happen. There’s going to be a lot of smoke, as many general managers will rightfully be interested in acquiring the star centerman.
This doesn’t mean that this smoke will ever lead to fire, however. The Eichel situation is one that will be incredibly difficult to navigate, as so many moving pieces need to fall perfectly in line for it to happen.
Now, this doesn’t mean that everything won’t suddenly fit into place. If a team gets desperate enough and sees Eichel as the answer to their problems, they may find a way to make the move happen even if it’s not the most advantageous for them.
If this occurs, it could provide a bit of a best-case scenario for Buffalo, as it would give them more leverage in trade talks, which is something they lacked in the past. They also don’t have to rush Eichel out the door either, which means they can take their time to get the right trade where they somehow find a way to turn this impossible situation into a win for the franchise.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.