Wild, Eichel never seemed like good fit

Jack Eichel Wild
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Right now it no longer seems to be a question of if the Buffalo Sabres will trade Eichel, but simply a question of when (and to where).

One of the teams rumored to be in the market for Buffalo’s disgruntled superstar has been the Minnesota Wild. A playoff team a year ago that has a glaring need for a No. 1 center and another superstar, franchise player. But according to the Athletic’s Michael Russo the Wild have, at least for now, backed out of the Eichel sweepstakes because according to his sources they are “fed up with the asking price from the Buffalo Sabres for the $10 million star with a neck injury.”

That asking price has reportedly centered around four future assets that are the equivalent of first-round picks.

Naturally the Sabres are going to aim for the moon in any trade talks for one of the league’s best player, but the history of star player trades suggest that when they do move him it will be for considerably less than that.

[Related: What would a potential Jack Eichel trade look like?]

Even so, the Wild and Eichel never seemed like a sensible match for the team or the player. Not because the Wild could not actually use Eichel (every team that does not have Jack Eichel can use Jack Eichel), but because it is difficult to see how they get each other closer to their goals.

Yes, the Wild are a very good team. They were one of the biggest surprise teams in the league this past season, one of the most exciting teams, and took a huge step forward in their progression. In theory, a player like Eichel could be what they need to help take them to the next level.

In theory.

It is not really that simple in reality, and it all comes down to money. Or the money the Wild would have available to them with Eichel on their roster to build around him.

Earlier this offseason the Wild sabotaged their short-term salary cap situation for the 2022-23, 2023-24, and 2024-25 seasons by buying out the remaining years of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter‘s contracts. Those buyouts are going to create empty cap space numbers of $12.7 million, $14.7 million, and $14.7 million during those respective seasons. In terms of salary cap commitment, that is the equivalent of two or three front-line players going to absolutely nothing. Making matters worse, the salary cap does not figure to move much from its current $81.5 million number in the near future.

That means the Wild are going to be operating under their own individual salary caps between $66 and $68 million over those three seasons.

That already puts them at a huge disadvantage when it comes to building a roster when compared to the rest of the teams around the league. Adding Eichel to that would automatically take up $10 million of that cap space, leaving only $56-58 million to build a team around what will probably be his best peak seasons.

Think about what all of this would mean.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

With Eichel on their roster, combined with the Parise and Suter buyouts, the Wild would have 30 percent ($24 million) of the $81.5 million salary cap tied up and only one player on the NHL roster to show for it.

Assume Kirill Kaprizov re-signs and takes $6-7 million (maybe a conservative guess?) they would then have nearly 40 percent of the allotted salary cap number and only two players to show for it.

None of that takes into account what the Wild would have to trade out of its organization to actually complete the trade and get Eichel. Would Kevin Fiala be involved to make the money work? A top prospect? A first-round pick? All of the above? Very likely!

Teams should not be afraid to commit large sums of their salary cap space to a small core of players. It works. It worked in Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay. Washington. St. Louis. Pretty much every recent Stanley Cup winning team. But that big money core has to feature at least four-five high-level, All-Star level players. Not two. Also not with enough salary cap space for two other high level players going to literally nothing. It would be nearly impossible for the Wild to successfully build a Stanley Cup contending team around Eichel for at least another four years without having an unbelievable pipe line of cheap talent coming through the farm system, or some incredibly shrewd roster management to find bargains.

Could it be done? Possibly. But there would be almost no margin for error. One bad contract, one misevaluation, and everything goes sideways.

It is really difficult to see how this match would be any better for either side. The Wild would have a superstar, but they would have little flexibility to build around him. Eichel would get out of Buffalo, but would be going to a team that would have little flexibility to build around him.

Eichel and the Wild should work. From a hockey perspective he would be exactly what they need. The salary cap situation, though, makes it seem completely impossible to get the result everybody would want.



Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced Wednesday.

The Knights termed the procedure Tuesday as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested early Wednesday morning in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released later Wednesday on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.