As the Sabres continue to lose games and inch their way toward a 10th consecutive non-playoff season, the trade speculation surrounding Jack Eichel is only going to continue to build.
It seems unlikely that a trade will happen this season, and it may not even happen during the offseason. But there is now enough smoke that it would not be a shock to see something happen before his no-movement clause kicks in before the 2022-23 NHL season. The Sabres need another rebuild, Eichel is going to be tired of losing, and it just seems like something that could happen sooner rather than later.
So what would such a trade look like?
It is a unique situation because players this good, this young, and signed long-term do not typically get traded. Players like that are franchise building blocks that teams tend to keep at all costs. There are not a lot of comparisons for such a deal. But we still tried to find some to try and guess an approximate value.
Given the speculation every fan and beat writer across the league is already piecing together their hypothetical trade offers — just as Sabres fans put together their wish list — and there is a very good chance that all of them are overstating what this trade might actually look like.
Not a ton of precedent for such a move
To try and find some comparisons I looked for trades over the past 10 years involving a very specific type of player that had to fit all of the categories Eichel does.
- A front-line, star player. An arbitrary distinction, maybe. But imagine a top-40 scoring forward or a top-pairing defender.
- In the prime of their career. So not older than 27 at the time of the trade. Preferably younger.
- They also had to be under contract for at least three more seasons. So no pending free agents. No player signed for two years or less. Had to be a player signed long-term.
Two types of trades
The players listed above typically brought back two different returns for the team trading them.
There is the “quantity” package that involved a very specific combination of assets. And there is also the lesser utilized (and often times more hilarious) “one-for-one” trades.
Let’s take a look at both types.
The quantity returns
This would be the category that Seguin, Kessel, O’Reilly, Richards, Carter, and Nash fall in. If you wanted to quibble on whether or not you think Eichel is a good comparison, you can. Eichel is a couple of years younger than some of these players were and is more productive offensively. But he also has a bigger contract in an era where we do not know what future salary caps will look like. You also have to consider that while players like Richards and O’Reilly were not as productive, they were elite top-line, two-way centers who not only scored at a first-line level but were also legitimate Selke Trophy contenders.
Players like Kessel, Nash, Carter were elite goal-scorers. Everyone knew Seguin was on track to be a superstar. They all had some sort of an elite skill.
What did those players bring back in return? Let’s examine below.
There is a very similar trade structure here.
- One really high-end player or prospect. Usually a recent first-round pick.
- An NHL veteran or two that is a depth player, or mid-roster player.
- Two draft picks including a first-round pick
The Flyers got great returns for Richards and Carter, but the team was far less successful following the trades (while Carter and Richards teamed up to win two Stanley Cups in LA). Boston did not do terrible initially for Seguin, but quickly squandered it in the years that followed and within three years had nobody remaining.
The last time Buffalo traded a top-line center (O’Reilly) it was ugly.
The trade is one-for-one
• Probably the most intriguing comparable here is the Taylor Hall trade from Edmonton to New Jersey. Hall was six years removed from being the No. 1 pick, was one of the five best left wingers in the league, averaged close to a point-per-game, stuck on a bad team, had multiple years left on a long-term deal.
Eichel is six years removed from being the No. 2 pick, top line player stuck on bad team, multiple years remaining on his deal. He was traded one-for-one for Adam Larsson, a five-year NHL veteran that at the time was signed long-term (five years, $4.6M per year) and a second-pairing defender. The only good news for Buffalo is Peter Chiarelli is not making this trade.
• When Montreal traded Subban he was 26 years old, a No. 1 defenseman with a Norris Trophy on his resume (and one year removed from being a finalist for it again) and signed to a massive contract. He was traded one-for-one for an older defenseman (Shea Weber) with an even bigger contract. Who won that trade is a matter of debate, but Nashville had more success with Subban (before trading him) than Montreal has with Weber.
• Months after Columbus acquired Carter from Philadelphia, they traded him to LA for Jack Johnson (veteran defenseman signed long-term) and a first-round pick. They did not win that trade.
So what could Buffalo expect?
If Buffalo does trade Eichel it is going to be the start of another rebuild, so it is hard to imagine the “one-for-one” option being on the table. Trading him for another similar player does nothing to fix the current situation. They need a lot and they need to hit a home run.
The most logical landing spots are the Kings and Rangers, given where both teams are in their current rebuilds, the salary cap space both have to work with, and the young assets they have to trade.
That means if you are a Sabres fan, you should prepare yourself for one really high-end young player (and probably not Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, or Quinton Byfield), another solid prospect, a mid-level NHL player, and two draft picks, one of which is a first-rounder.
NHL general managers are all pretty similar. They are risk averse, look for the same things, and typically do the same things. So we should know what this deal might look like. The days of getting an Eric Lindros-type haul for a star player are gone. There is too much value in young, cheap talent under the salary cap for teams to give up the farm for one player.