Would Eichel trade make sense for Flames, Golden Knights?

Would Eichel trade make sense for Flames, Golden Knights?
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[UPDATE: Eichel has been traded to Vegas for a package that includes Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs.]

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Jack Eichel trade rumors are once again heating up. According to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, the latest frontrunners in a Jack Eichel trade are the Calgary Flames and Vegas Golden Knights.

Crucially, Kaplan reports that both the Golden Knights and Flames would allow Jack Eichel to pursue his preferred neck surgery (artificial disk replacement) in the trade process. Indications continue to point to the Sabres refusing to retain salary in a Jack Eichel trade.

Let’s dive into how a Jack Eichel trade might work for the Flames and Golden Knights. Before we do that, though, a caveat. This Eichel trade process has been bumpy, and there have been plenty of setbacks. Dallas Eakins said it well when asked about rumors of Eichel possibly getting traded to the Ducks:

So, sprinkle the requisite grains of salt. Or something like that. Anyway …

Should Flames trade for Eichel if Tkachuk is part of price?

Kevin Weekes tweeted out something that raised plenty of eyebrows:

If nothing else, that hypothetical Matthew Tkachuk – Jack Eichel trade proposition really lights up the imagination. But dig into it more and, while it’s still intriguing, you can also mislead yourself. Consider a few factors.

  • “Former first-round pick” lights up the imagination. But ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski notes that the Flames have some less-than-stellar potential options. Ultimately, that part of the package is vague.
  • Matthew Tkachuk’s the real deal. However, he’s also a pending RFA who could cost a pretty penny. His current cap hit ($7M) isn’t cheap, and his qualifying offer would be $9M.

So, there are some caveats.

But … considering the sort of bind the Sabres seem to be in while trying to trade Jack Eichel? That seems pretty intriguing. It’s also perfectly plausible that the Sabres could just flip Tkachuk for more assets after trading away Eichel.

At 23, Tkachuk is in the meat of his prime. Still, who knows how long the Sabres rebuild might take?

Eichel vs. Tkachuk

Beyond all that, what about Eichel vs. Tkachuk? By certain underlying metrics, you could argue it’s a close call. Consider this three-year RAPM chart comparison from Evolving Hockey:

The science says it: they both rule. (Via Evolving Hockey)

Of course, that only tells part of the story.

For one thing, Eichel’s a play-driving center, while Tkachuk is a play-driving, [blank]-disturbing winger. You have to note that Eichel seems to have a higher scoring ceiling, scoring 355 points in 375 career games (vs. Tkachuk’s 284 points in 358 career games).

If both are healthy, Eichel’s the superior talent.

That’s an uncomfortably large “if” for the Flames in considering an Eichel trade, though. Personally, I cannot recall many star NHL players undergoing significant neck surgery in the meat of their primes (Eichel is 25).

Broadly speaking, disk replacement surgery is more likely to allow Eichel wider neck movement than fusion would. We can’t be certain Eichel will be the Jack Eichel we once knew post-surgery. Hence the hesitation to trade for him in the first place.

For the Flames, a Jack Eichel trade is likely worth the risk. The team may want to move on from Tkachuk, considering they’ll need to sign Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Mangiapane after this season.

Flames GM Brad Treliving has been called a “riverboat gambler” before, so an Eichel trade would arguably be in character.

If the Sabres extracted Tkachuk and some valuable futures in an Eichel trade, it would be an impressive bit of work by GM Kevyn Adams. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

What about an Eichel trade for the Golden Knights?

Speaking of gamblers, the Vegas Golden Knights love to go all-in.

For us mere cap-fearing mortals, a Jack Eichel trade feels tough to imagine for the Vegas Golden Knights. How much would the injury-ravaged Golden Knights lean on LTIR placements to make an Eichel trade work?

For any Jack Eichel trade suitor, the 2021-22 season is a small part of the equation. Thanks to how things dragged on, it’s tough to imagine him playing much (if at all) before the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Golden Knights might be OK with that. Again, they’re banged up, and may embrace the possibility that a playoff push could be a real slog.

With some medium-sized contracts for the likes of Evgenii Dadonov and Reilly Smith, you could start to pile things up to Eichel’s $10M cap hit. It’s tough to imagine the Golden Knights putting together the sort of Eichel trade package that would amount to Tkachuk + some nice futures … but maybe the Flames and/or Sabres were being cagey in giving that hypothetical so much air?

Beyond the logistics, the Eichel – Golden Knights fit could be fascinating. Ponder this:

  • Chandler Stephenson‘s been a great fit between a when-healthy winger pairing of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. In particular, his skating, savvy, and transition value really mix well with Pacioretty – Stone. Well, Eichel is a transition beast, and drives play. Consider Eichel the equivalent of Stephenson on one of Super Mario’s power-up mushrooms. (Or maybe that star that makes Mario invincible? Look, I’m too old to make “Fortnite” analogies. Sorry.)
  • The Golden Knights could also keep that great line together, and have Eichel power another line. Then he could boost a power play that’s been strangely powerless, even when people are healthy.

Above all else, the Golden Knights making the Eichel trade would be just … fun.

In other sports, contending teams go for it. Some do it over and over again, like the NFL’s Rams.

Maybe the Golden Knights are just too “new to this” to realize they’re supposed to wait idly by. Or maybe they realize that, deep down, the NHL is in the entertainment business.

And, for all of the setbacks in the Jack Eichel trade rumblings, maybe Wednesday really could be the day?

Stay tuned.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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