The Jack Eichel situation seems to have reached its breaking point in Buffalo, going from contentious to downright ugly.
He clearly wants to have his preferred surgery, he clearly wants moved somewhere else, and it only seems to be a matter of when he actually gets traded.
But for as ugly as the situation is the Sabres are still not going to just give him away. Nor can they. He is still Jack Eichel, he is still one of the best players in the league, and if they are going to move him they have to make sure they get back everything they can for him. General manager Kevyn Adams’ asking price reportedly focuses on four young assets that are the equivalent of a first-round pick. If we are being realistic he is probably not going to get that. They might get something close to that, but the return will definitely be lower than that price. Just because that is how these things work.
Still, any team that wants to trade him for will need two things: 1) a way to clear enough salary cap space to take his $10 million per year salary cap number, and 2) enough young assets to pay Buffalo’s asking price.
Let’s look at the possibilities.
New York Rangers
This has always been one of the obvious teams. They are ready to compete, are feeling pressure to compete, have enough salary cap space to swing for the fences, and are swimming in talented young assets that Buffalo would almost certainly love to acquire. They still have $13 million in salary cap space for this season and more than $34 million next season with 13 players signed under contract. They do have some significant raises coming in the short term (Adam Fox, Igor Shesterkin, Mika Zibanejad) but they should still have enough flexibility to make it work.
Los Angeles Kings
Salary cap space is a little more limited following the additions of Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, but the salary cap has never stopped a team from acquiring a player it badly wants before and it will not stop them now. The Kings also have one of the deepest farm systems in hockey. It would also be ideal for Buffalo to ship Eichel to the Western Conference where they would only see him twice per season. If the Kings could get Eichel their center depth with him, Danault, and Anze Kopitar would be as good as any team in the NHL.
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The Ducks are desperate for a star and have a nearly clean slate to work with next season from a contract perspective. They only have eight players under contract for the 2022-23 sesaon and none of them make more than $6.5 million per season. They could easily afford the contract from a salary cap perspective and they do have some promising young players that might intrigue Buffalo, including Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and Max Comtois.
It makes sense, but will take some work
Vegas Golden Knights
You can never rule out Vegas in these situations because you just never know what these guys are going to do. They will move out whoever they need to move out to get the player they want, cut whatever they need to cut, and be as ruthless as the situation calls for. They have already exhausted a lot of their young assets in prior trades, but you have to assume somebody like Alex Tuch (for salary cap purposes) and Peyton Krebs (top prospect) would be the focal point.
The Wild clearly wanted to get involved in this — and Eichel would be absolutely perfect for them from a hockey standpoint — but do not want to meet the asking price. I also question how realistic it is given the salary cap situation over the next few years where they will have between $12-15 million in empty salary cap space due to the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts.
Eichel has already made it clear that he would like to someday play for his hometown team, and with David Krejci on his way back to the Czech Republic there is an obvious hole on their second line. Eichel would also eventually take the torch from Patrice Bergeron as the new No. 1 center in the future. From a hockey standpoint it makes total sense. The problem: The Bruins do not have a ton of salary cap flexibility and they are badly lacking in young assets that Buffalo would want. It also seems impossible to think that the Pegula’s would allow Eichel to end up in their same division.
Okay this one is just a total shot in the dark here and my own speculation and “what if” game. But the Predators are swimming in salary cap space this offseason and have a ton of flexibility for next season, they need a superstar like Eichel to be a franchise cornerstone at forward, and they have a general manager that has a knack for building his team through blockbuster trades (with varying degrees of success). Nobody has ever mentioned the Predators in this, maybe because they do not have the young assets to trade that Buffalo would want, but there is enough reason to think they should at least explore it.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.