A trade saga that was, as of last night, “at the one-yard line” has been punched in for the touchdown, and the injured and disgruntled Jack Eichel has finally gotten what he wanted: the hell out of Buffalo.
The 24-year-old center, who has clashed with Sabres management over the treatment of his neck injury—he wants an artificial disk replacement, which is a relatively unproven procedure among athletes and has never been performed on an NHL player; the team wanted disk fusion surgery, which can potentially carry long-term effects—hasn’t played since getting hurt in March, and still needs to go under the knife. One suspects the Golden Knights have seen the medicals and signed off on Eichel’s preferred procedure, but either way, it’ll be a bit before we see him on the ice; he is not the cavalry swooping in to immediately relieve the injury-riddled Vegas roster. But acquiring Eichel is not just for the current season. He’s signed through 2026, and when healthy—if healthy—is one of the best centers in the game. A scary-on-paper Golden Knights roster looks downright terrifying now.
(Vegas, perpetually wrangling with the cap, will need to get a bit creative. They’ll probably put the injured Mark Stone on long-term IR in order to get cap-compliant for this deal to go through, then place Eichel on LTIR. But when both are healthy again, something possibly drastic will have to be done in order to make everyone fit.)
This return for the Sabres isn’t what they were envisioning when they first shopped Eichel this summer, but it sure isn’t nothing. Alex Tuch, who’s out another couple months after shoulder surgery, is a 25-year-old right winger who in his last full season put up 20 goals and 52 points. He’s more a top-six complement than a star, but he’s signed for an extremely affordable four more years after this one. Peyton Krebs, a 20-year-old center, is the Knights’ first-round pick from 2019 and is seeing his first full-time NHL action this year. He’s best considered still more of a prospect, but he’ll get his chance to play big minutes in Buffalo.
But the big question is and perhaps will long be: What was Calgary offering? The Flames were reported to be the other finalist for Eichel’s services, and their rumored trade package seemed pretty sweet:
Matthew Tkachuk, the 23-year-old two-way winger, is a jewel—and one the Flames might not be able to afford to keep, given their own upcoming cap crunch. Without knowing what the other exact pieces were, Tkachuk alone would seem to make Calgary’s offer preferable. But there are things that could’ve complicated matters. Perhaps Buffalo liked the longer term and cost certainty of Tuch. Perhaps Tkachuk made it clear to the Sabres that he wasn’t interested in signing long-term; he’s a pending restricted free agent, and no matter how feisty Buffalo has been to start the season, they’re trying to build something that won’t top out for a few years. Perhaps Calgary demanded that the Sabres retain some salary. Or perhaps the Flames never actually formally offered that package. We don’t know!
All other things being equal, a Tkachuk package theoretically tops what Vegas paid, but all other things were not equal. Of course, a healthy, happy Jack Eichel tops either—but that ship sailed long ago for the Sabres.