The hope and optimism surrounding the Sabres after selecting Jack Eichel at the 2015 NHL Draft is something that most fans will never forget. For some, it was not a question of if they would make it to the playoffs with the young core, but when. Maybe two years? Three at most? Fast forward six seasons and the Buffalo Sabres organization finds itself in a desolate place.
There are many times in life where things do not go exactly as planned and the Jack Eichel era in Buffalo is unfortunately just one of those times. As the old saying goes: “sometimes it’s best to just move on.” It is the hardest, yet most essential step.
Moving on: that is where I am at with the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel. Do I think Eichel should be moved because of “poor play” or a “bad attitude”? Absolutely not. Most criticism regarding his play and leadership has no real legs to stand on. He is a fantastic hockey player who has come as advertised. He finished 8th in Hart voting on a mediocre 2019/20 Sabres team and flashed his defensive acumen when the offense wasn’t there in his shortened, injury-riddled 2020/21 campaign. He has cemented himself among the league’s elite.
The reality is Jack Eichel appears to be an unhappy player on a team that does not seem very close to a playoff spot. He also has a full no-move clause that kicks in after this season. Add in all of these ingredients and you have a recipe for disaster if not moved before the 2022 offseason (see: Taylor Hall trade to Boston).
If the Sabres goal is truly to win a Stanley Cup, is it wise to keep the current core and try to build around them with spare parts? We have seen that plan fail season after season. While there may be intriguing signs from the Sabres youth, it is not a core I necessarily believe will carry the team to the promised land. Take a quick look at a team like Tampa Bay who has elite talent on elite talent which has led them to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories. The Buffalo Sabres current assets pale in comparison.
The best course of action is to move away from the current core and enter another serious rebuild. This organization needs a hard reset and the only way that can be done is by accumulating youth by trading away their current core to select high in the loaded 2022 and 2023 drafts. Basically, the Sabres should do 2014 and 2015 over again without the squandering of assets, horrible planning, and poor personnel moves.
I think it has become clear that the Buffalo Sabres will likely trade at a loss on an asset like Jack Eichel and the organization has nobody to blame but themselves for that. We may also see Eichel go to a spot where he is able to win and contend for a Cup immediately. The short-term pain in Buffalo will be immense. However, I truly believe the Sabres will be better for it in the end. The hope is that the young core led by Rasmus Dahlin, Dylan Cozens, (likely) Owen Power, the 2022/2023 1st round picks, and all of the other accumulated talent via this rebuild will help the team rise from the ashes.
So, before we get into some mock trades for Jack Eichel, I wanted to break down the thought process that went into this article. Like my mock trade deadline article from April, I try to keep the mock trades as realistic as possible. Yes, I know this can lead to disappointed readers at times, but think of these mock trades as projections.
Here are some “golden rules” that I followed in my mock Jack Eichel trades and I hope that GM Kevyn Adams follows them too:
The Golden Rules
- The main piece must be no more than 25 years old
One of the main benefits of trading Eichel is creating a window with the majority of the talent on the team in the same age range. If the key piece coming back in a deal is 27 years old, where do they fit in with a 21 year old Rasmus Dahlin, 20 year old Dyland Cozens, 18 year old Owen Power, and whoever the Sabres draft in 2022 and 2023?
Any player over 25 years old will have some of their best years wasted in a hard rebuild, so it does not make much sense to acquire them as a significant piece in an Eichel deal. This trade return needs to be one that kicks off and energizes the rebuild. With Jack Eichel’s diminished trade value, it is very important not to waste return value on an asset that will not help the team contend down the road.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are some grand prizes at the top of the 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts: Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, and Matvei Michkov. If an asset is acquired that helps the Sabres finish in 5th last rather than 2nd last, it would worsen their odds of getting one of those players, so would it really be worth it? Imagine if the Sabres drafted Dylan Strome instead of Jack Eichel in 2015. Ok, actually don’t imagine that.
Do not even get me started on goalies over the age of 25. Just no.
- Be realistic
The Sabres are dealing with a player whose value is lowered due to a neck injury. This same player has a full no-move clause that kicks in next offseason. This player also appears to be very unhappy with the organization. The team really finds themselves in a situation that they probably will not win.
Certainly not an ideal situation, but not one that will sink the organization for eternity. Unlike the Ryan O’Reilly situation, where the Sabres were in “win now” mode and were dealing with limited assets, this is an entering a rebuild situation. The return from this deal is not as crucial because more high draft picks will be made and more value assets will be acquired later. It is a “buying materials to build a house” situation rather than a “this house is built, but we tore apart half of it and can’t afford new materials” situation.
GM Kevyn Adams will be playing with fire as he gets closer to that no-move clause. It is important to avoid getting absolutely killed on this trade. It is also important to recognize that you could lose leverage and get even more killed the longer this trade waits.
- Plan for a hard rebuild
This really ties into the first golden rule, but it is worth mentioning again. Shane Wright, Connor Bedard, and Matvei Michkov have been re-writing history books with some of their performances in their respective leagues. They are very, very good prospects. The players that will be available after those big names are also fairly high-end as well. The 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts will be very good to build around.
The current team in place is just not good enough for one of those quick re-tool rebuilds, especially after a Jack Eichel trade (along with a number of players leaving as unrestricted free agents). The Don Granato story was a great one to end last season, but the Eichel-less team under his control would have still been on pace to finish in last place in his 28-game sample. It is misguided to think that this team is playoff caliber with the addition of pieces from an Eichel trade alongside the further development of the team’s youth. Go out and trade for futures. Also, do not be afraid to take on a bad short-term contract to spice things up.
So let’s dive into the mock trades:
Buffalo gets: Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, Brendan Brisson
Vegas gets: Jack Eichel
This first trade is really pushing the limits of my first golden rule as Alex Tuch just turned 25 years old this past May. However, there needs to be some salary coming back Buffalo’s way and the Syracuse native comes in at a $4.75 million cap hit for the next five seasons. Fortunately for the Sabres (and unfortunately for Tuch), he does not have a no trade clause in his contract for the 2021/22 season, so the Sabres front office does not have to worry about being on any lists.
Tuch will be much more than a cap dump that is not tied down by a no trade clause. He is an all-around solid hockey player. While his point totals may not immediately jump off the page, he has fantastic underlying numbers. He was in the 93rd percentile of NHLers in Goals Above Replacement this past season according to Evolving-Hockey.
Tuch is a positive impact player on both sides of the puck and would be a great piece for any NHL team to add. While his age may not be ideal for the Sabres’ timeline, he could be a key piece in lifting the team out of the rebuilding phase as their youth further develops.
He will be 27 at the start of the 2023/24 season, which is ideally when the Sabres present and future prospects begin to hit their stride. Once again, not ideal but not horrible as Buffalo can still get a few meaningful years out of Tuch before his aging curve really kicks in past the age of 30.
Now, let’s look at some of the prospects involved in this deal. Peyton Krebs is a prospect who does not get as much hype as he deserves. After tearing his achilles tendon just a few weeks prior to the 2019 NHL Draft, Krebs slid down to the Golden Knights at 17th overall.
He has done nothing but impress since his draft day, posting 103 points in 62 games for the Winnipeg Ice over the past two seasons. He was also a key player on Canada’s World Juniors squad that was the runner-up in the 2021 tournament. He finished this past season with 5 points in 5 games for the Silver Knights in the AHL and saw 4 games with the NHL club until his season was cut short after suffering a broken jaw.
There is a lot to like about Krebs’ game. He is a fantastic playmaker as he possesses the ability to thread the needle with some beautiful passes. His hockey sense ability allows him to create dangerous scoring opportunities for his teammates. Krebs also managed to get a few games in at center at the NHL level before his injury. Adding another potential play-driving center into the mix would be fantastic for the Sabres rebuild.
The final piece in this potential trade is the Golden Knights 2020 1st round selection, Brendan Brisson. The best way to describe Brisson: problem solver. That is what makes him such a dangerous player whenever he is on the ice. He has that innate ability that allows him to see this ice and create offense out of a variety of situations.
His production suffered a bit at the World Juniors and at the NCAA level, but this was largely due to a lack of ice time. His per 60 rates remained fantastic and he showed flashes of what makes him such an intriguing prospect. The fact that he has shown the ability to effectively play the center position is just icing on the cake.
While this mock trade proposal may be a bit unlikely due to the quantity and quality of pieces Vegas has to give up, something along these lines may not be impossible to get done with the Golden Knights. Vegas undoubtedly has a fantastic hockey team and is one of the league’s best at driving expected results. These expected results have not always translated to actual results, which has led to the team’s early departure in the past few NHL playoffs.
The Golden Knights also lack a true #1 center. While it is true that the team plays a system that is not as reliant on an all-involved player down the middle, they may try to mix things up after another postseason failure. Jack Eichel would provide the team with that big player down the middle who is one of the elite finishers in the game when healthy. He also fits in very nicely age-wise with the current core of Stone, Pacioretty, and Theodore.
A trade like this would be a “best case scenario” for the Sabres. They capitalize on a team looking for that one move to push them over the hump and they acquire a piece to eventually lift the team out of the rebuilding phase alongside two very fun offensive prospects who project as centers at the NHL level.
Buffalo gets: 2021 1st round pick (3rd overall), Max Comtois, Jacob Perreault
Anaheim gets: Jack Eichel
While some recent rumblings have thrown some water on Anaheim’s interest in Eichel, I am still confident that they will be a key player in this summer’s sweepstakes. That’s probably a good thing too as the Ducks have a lot of very interesting pieces that will help the Sabres in their “new” rebuild.
According to Elliotte Friedman, the Ducks were not willing to part ways with Trevor Zegras or Jamie Drysdale in their offer for Pierre Luc-Dubois (before the Winnipeg trade). So, they may be hesitant to move those two prospects in any Eichel proposal. However, Friedman does believe that the 3rd overall pick may be in play.
So, the pièce de résistance in this mock trade package is the 3rd overall pick. While the pick’s value may not be the same as usual due to a weaker draft class, it’s still a highly appealing asset for the Buffalo Sabres. It would allow them to grab the consensus #1 in Owen Power with the 1st overall pick while adding a high-end forward to the prospect pool with that 3rd overall pick.
Another important thing that needs to be considered in rebuilds are timelines. Having all of your prospects rise up and break out at the same time can be an issue contract-wise (see Toronto Maple Leafs summer of 2019). However, the upside is the value of having your good players in their primes at the same time. This additional 2021 pick will be placed neatly between the “older” youth (Rasmus Dahlin and Dylan Cozens) and the “younger” youth (2022 and 2023 1st round picks).
An additional piece in this deal is Max Comtois, a player who has seen his hype die down a bit after being named captain of the Canada World Juniors team in 2019. This is not due to his play, but due to the lack of attention given to a struggling Ducks team. Comtois has managed to be a 0.54 point-per-game player through his first 94 NHL games.
Comtois is a big body winger who has really thrived in the dangerous areas of the ice in Anaheim. According to Corey Sznajder’s tracking data, he was a top ten player in both Shots off High Danger Passes per 60 and High Danger Shot Assists per 60. You can spot him way up the top right quadrant, away from his Ducks teammates on the below chart:
There are a lot of things to like about Comtois’ game: positive shooter, good offensive impacts, good forechecking. I think you are getting a very nice, team-controlled winger who can slot up and down the top nine. He is only 22 years old, so he still fits into the youth movement despite being a bit on the older end of things. Overall, just a nice piece to acquire in this deal.
The final piece coming to Buffalo in this mock trade is Jacob Perreault. He has no relation to Gilbert Perreault, but he is the son of long-time NHLer, Yanic Perreault. He heard his name called in the 1st round of the 2020 NHL Draft after an impressive 39-goal season with the Sarnia Sting of the OHL. This past season saw him record 17 points in 27 games for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL.
The most valuable asset in Perreault’s game is his shooting ability. His shot has great speed and accuracy. He has great mechanics, knowing how to collect the puck for an effective release. Everything about his shooting ability is natural and it is why he recorded back-to-back 30-goal seasons in the OHL as a 16 and 17 year old. His shooting percentage took a bit of a dip in the AHL this year (8.3% compared to 17.0% in the OHL), but he had a small sample size of only 36 shots.
Perreault is yet another piece that likely projects as a top six complementary winger, one that has some very intriguing traits. The Sabres have been lacking in good complementary winger depth for the better part of a decade, so it would be fantastic to add yet another player in this deal with key contributor potential.
At the end of the day, this trade return would look like Matt Beniers/William Eklund, Max Comtois, and Jacob Perreault. That is a nice mix of quantity and quality which is exactly what the Sabres are looking for in a trade return for Jack Eichel. The Sabres’ forward group will have depth for years to come with this trade.
Buffalo gets: Matt Boldy, Calen Addison, Victor Rask, conditional 2022 1st round pick
Minnesota gets: Jack Eichel
The Minnesota Wild have been a team whose name has recently popped up as a potential Jack Eichel destination. The Wild have quietly built up a quality prospect pool while icing a competitive NHL roster. They are a team that may be just another high-end piece away from truly becoming Stanley Cup contenders, so it’s easy to see why they would be willing to jump on a centerman like Jack Eichel.
The two big pieces that Minnesota can offer are their last two 1st round selections: Matt Boldy and Marco Rossi. The flashy Rossi may be the more popular name at this point in time, especially after dominating the OHL in 2019/20. However, Boldy made up some ground with a stellar 2020/21 season.
I think one of these two players would have to be the main piece in an Eichel trade. For the sake of this article, I will add Matt Boldy to this mock trade. I do not necessarily think Boldy is the better prospect (it’s close), but I just have a hard time seeing the Sabres taking Rossi back as the main piece after passing on him in the draft only a few months ago. Sure, it could still happen but it just feels weird, you know?
So let’s talk about Matt Boldy. There were some superficial concerns regarding Boldy’s profile as a prospect. He had a big frame for his age (did he just develop faster than his peers?) and he played on a loaded NTDP team (did he ride on the coattails of high-end linemates?). Despite these generalized concerns, he managed to be selected 12th overall to the Minnesota Wild.
After a slow start to his 2019/20 season, Boldy hit the ground running in 2020/21. He recorded 31 points in 22 games at Boston College (leading the NCAA in primary points per 60), 7 points in 7 games for Team USA at the World Juniors en route to a gold medal, and 18 points in 14 games in his pro rookie season with the Iowa Wild. This season really uncovered all of the special things about his game: creativity, finesse, lethal wrist shot, hockey IQ. What he lacks in footspeed is made up for in every other part of his game.
Boldy is truly a swiss army knife type of offensive talent and I believe he will be a key piece to an NHL offense in the near future. He is going to kill teams below the dots with his smarts and skill set. Give him space up top and he will make teams pay with his wrist shot. The conversation around Boldy has gone from maybe he can be a good complementary piece to maybe he can be ”that guy.”
Calen Addison is the second piece in this deal and he is a 21 year-old defenseman who I have always enjoyed watching. He was a point-per-game defenseman in the WHL while playing with Dylan Cozens in Lethbridge and made his pro debut in both the AHL and NHL in 2020/21.
Addison’s profile is one that may scare some teams away: 5’10”, offense-first defenseman, power play QB. There is such a grand spectrum of outcomes for players with this type of profile. Maybe they become an effective second pairing defenseman like Sam Girard. Maybe they become a sheltered power play specialist like Marc-Andre Bergeron. Maybe they end up in Switzerland in a few years as a point accumulating defenseman.
There are some very likable traits about Addison’s game such as his mobility and vision. He has the hockey IQ to boot, allowing him to be a creator of offense from the backend. Defense is the area of his game that has been lacking and needs work, but he has certainly made some progress since his junior days. I believe Addison will be that type of player who can play high event hockey while still winning the on-ice expected goal share as that is just how good he can be on offense.
The next piece in this deal is Victor Rask and I am not going to dive into too much detail on his game. He is just a cap dump to make this deal work and fill out next season’s roster. He carries a $4 million cap hit for one more season, so he will be an easy contract for the Sabres to swallow. This gives the Wild a little more cap flexibility for the 2021/22 season.
The final piece: a conditional 2022 1st round pick. This is my first mock trade that contains a conditional pick, but this is something we are likely to see in any Jack Eichel trade this summer. Teams view his neck injury as an issue, so this 1st round pick will be tied to Eichel playing a minimum amount of games in the 2021/22 season (let’s say 20 games). If his rehabilitation and/or surgery goes well, the Sabres will be awarded with this pick.
This trade may be teetering on the brink of the Ryan O’Reilly trade return territory. The value of this return really depends on how the prospects develop and I am very confident that Matt Boldy will become a very good top six NHL winger. I also believe Calen Addison has the potential to be a fun, yet effective, offensive defenseman. It’s not my favorite trade return of the bunch, but it’s one I think the Sabres can live with.
Buffalo gets: Kirby Dach, 2021 1st round pick (11th overall)
Chicago gets: Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen
Chicago is not one of the teams that has really come up regarding interest in Jack Eichel. So this final trade will be more of a “really cool for Buffalo if it happened” trade scenario. The Blackhawks have some fun wingers that are capable of performing at a high-end level in Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, and Dominik Kubalik.
Finding consistent play down the middle was a struggle last season. The Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach injuries left them fumbling to find centers. With the return of Toews in 2021/22 maybe they part ways with some futures to acquire Jack Eichel and make one last playoff push with the Kane/Toews duo. Unlikely? Probably, but I’m going to do it anyways to add a little spice to this article.
First up, we have another piece heading to the Windy City alongside Jack Eichel in this deal and that is Rasmus Ristolainen. His name has been in trade rumblings for the past half decade and yet nothing has come to fruition. The 2021/22 season is the final season on his current contract and all signs point to him leaving Buffalo. Ristolainen is going to have to be dealt by March 2022 if the Sabres want anything in return, so they include him in this deal as sweetener.
This mock trade is a bit different than the prior ones because there are only two (albeit very high-end) pieces coming back to Buffalo in this deal. First up is Kirby Dach, the 2019 3rd overall pick who was set to captain Team Canada at the World Juniors this past season until the injury bug struck. He spent his entire 2019/20 campaign with the Blackhawks where he performed pretty well for a teenager.
Kirby Dach is a big 6’4” forward who projects to be a top six NHL centerman. He is unique due to his skill and hands being very good for a player his size. He also has the hockey IQ and compete to go along with it. Dach just has a very intriguing package that gives him sky high potential as there are not many players at his size with his skill set. The fact that he managed to hold his own in the NHL as an 18 year old just adds to that intrigue.
If the Sabres manage to land a centerman of Dach’s caliber in an Eichel trade, they enter the rebuild with a very intriguing young duo of Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach down the middle. This is before they add whichever prospects they select with their high picks in 2022 and 2023. This creates a foundation that would be solid compared to the crumbling foundation they tried adding Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sam Reinhart to in 2015.
The added flair in this deal arrives via the 11th overall pick which is yet another great asset for the Sabres rebuild. I think the Blackhawks would have to be absolutely enamored by Rasmus Ristolainen’s game to be willing to part with both of these assets, but hey, the NHL can be a wild place sometimes (see: Duncan Keith trade).
This pick would be an area of the draft where teams will really have to showcase their scouting prowess. With a depleted scouting staff in Buffalo, this may cause some concern among the fanbase. There should be a lot of interesting options available at this pick: Fabian Lysell, Cole Sillinger, Chaz Lucius, maybe even Kent Johnson. They could also get wild with it and go with one of the high-end goalie prospects, Jesper Wallstedt or Sebastian Cossa.
There’s going to be options at 11th overall and if their pick hits, they can add two significant pieces to their rebuild via this mock trade. Do I think the Sabres can acquire two high-end pieces in an Eichel trade? Possibly. Do I think it will be difficult with his neck injury? Absolutely, but this should be the type of return GM Kevyn Adams pushes for.