In a season full of rock bottoms for the Buffalo Sabres, they may have just hit another one today. At a press conference this morning, Sabres captain Jack Eichel voiced his frustration with the state of the team, particularly their handling of his season-ending neck injury.
“Wherever that might be” is not usually the type of language used by a team captain who has five years left on his contract. It appears that Eichel is leaving the door wide open to a potential trade out of Buffalo. While there were some stunning quotes from Eichel’s press conference, the current reality doesn’t come as a surprise to those who have been following the situation. Last summer, I explored the idea of the then-unnamed Kraken trading for Eichel and laid out a scenario that could lead to Seattle being contenders to make a Jack Eichel trade:
“With the Sabres hiring an almost entirely new front office and coach, Eichel is likely going to give them at least one season to try to turn the team around. What if they can’t though? What if, despite the changes Adams makes in the 2020 offseason, the Sabres fall flat yet again and are essentially out of contention before the trade deadline for the sixth time in as many years? Eichel, visibly frustrated by the failures of another floundering Sabres regime, decides that he’s finally seen enough. In an end of season statement, Eichel makes it known publicly that he wants out and is requesting a trade. Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams decides that the drama of a potential holdout is not worth it and a trade would be the best option for both sides. The Sabres enter the 2021 offseason knowing that they must get what return they can for their captain and start over. Any Eichel-to-Seattle trade would have to start with a scenario like that.”July 16th, 2020
Well, here we are. In the 10 months since, nearly every element of that proposed scenario has become reality. The Sabres once again failed to even come close to contending for a playoff spot, finishing dead last in the NHL. Eichel communicated his disconnect with the Sabres organization today in no uncertain terms.
In the often bland “pucks in deep” world of NHL press conferences, “I have to do what’s best for me. I’m only going to play hockey for so long” roughly translates to “Screw you guys, I’m not going to waste away here anymore.” While there’s been no official response from the Sabres organization or GM Kevyn Adams, one would have to imagine that everyone involved can see the writing on the wall. While Adams would surely prefer not to trade his captain and franchise player, he may no longer have a choice. Although Eichel has five years left on his contract, there’s an element of time pressure for Adams as well. According to capfriendly.com, Eichel’s contract contains a no-move clause that kicks in July 2022. Once the no-move clause goes into effect, Eichel could veto any potential trade and essentially handpick his destination, severely limiting the Sabres’ bargaining power in any trade negotiation. If Adams is going to trade Eichel, now would be the time to maximize his return.
What would the return for Eichel look like? Trading a player of Eichel’s caliber at such a young age is highly unusual. In fact, there isn’t a single example of a comparable player being traded in the last decade. Given the level of interest and a likely 20+ team bidding war, the return would have to be substantial. While speculated returns vary widely, the most likely framework for a competitive offer includes two 1st round picks, a top prospect, and two other assets.
Given that framework, the Kraken are in a position to make a competitive offer- one that could have a unique appeal to the Sabres.
Supplying the necessary draft capital will be the easiest task for the Kraken. With the incredible leverage Seattle will have in expansion draft negotiations, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Kraken GM Ron Francis could amass three or even four 1st round picks, which he could then use as assets in a potential Eichel trade. That said, 1st round picks this year may hold less value as assets than they otherwise would. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, amateur scouts haven’t been able to scout this year’s draft class nearly as much as in a normal year. For that reason, it’s been rumored that some teams have soured on the idea of acquiring early picks this year. That’s why any competitive offer for Eichel would also have to include current NHL players and high-quality prospects.
With that in mind, I’ve created the following trade offer that I think would be highly competitive:
We currently have Jake Bean, Adin Hill, and Travis Dermott being selected by the Kraken in our Projected Seattle Kraken Roster. Here, the Kraken ship them off to Buffalo as the player/prospect component of the trade. The Kraken add their own 2021 1st round pick, which is most likely to be 3rd overall, although depending on the results of the draft lottery it could fall anywhere in the 1-5 range. The other pick going to Buffalo is the Montreal Canadiens’ 1st round pick, which we’ll imagine has been traded to the Kraken in a side deal to protect goalie Jake Allen.
The final piece in this deal is where the Kraken’s offer can differentiate itself from all the others. The Kraken would select Kyle Okposo as their expansion draft pick from the Sabres. Okposo has two years remaining on his contract which carries a $6 million cap hit. That’s far too high for a player who is now a 3rd line winger at best. Okposo’s contract carries considerable negative value and in any other scenario it would likely cost the Sabres multiple high draft picks to rid themselves of it. In this trade, Seattle takes care of that problem while ensuring that the Sabres escape the expansion draft without losing another player. Taking on a contract like Okposo’s and getting the Sabres off the hook in the expansion draft are two things no other Eichel contender will be in a position to do.
While it appears that the Kraken will have what it takes to get an Eichel deal done, should they? Would such a bold trade be worth it for the Kraken? In a word, absolutely. The opportunity to acquire a franchise player at the start of his prime is incredibly rare. When that chance comes along, nearly any price will prove to be worth it. As an expansion team, having a true superstar player leading the franchise would pay enormous dividends both on and off the ice. Ron Francis would instantly solve the gaping hole we’re projecting the Kraken to have at center and the Kraken would have a player capable of enthralling new fans with highlight-reel plays every shift. Swing for the fences, Ron. Let’s bring Jack Eichel to Seattle.