By Spencer Lindsay | Follow me on Twitter @dispencer88
If you haven’t heard, Jack Eichel wants out of Buffalo. The Sabres themselves even are ready to move on from Jack Eichel. This is according to NHL insider Pierre Lebrun, who tweeted this out back in mid-June.
If you don’t have a subscription to The Athletic, basically what the article says is that the Sabres are ready to move on from Jack Eichel, and the feeling is mutual. A lot of this stems from a re-occurring neck injury that has plagued Eichel the last few seasons and a disagreement between the team and the player over how best to treat this injury. It’s not exactly clear the details of the disagreement, but it seems as though Eichel does not trust the opinions of the team doctors regarding his injury and sought a second opinion that the team doesn’t seem to agree with.
Who Is Jack Eichel?
For those who aren’t aware, Jack Eichel was the second overall draft choice of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, the same year that Connor McDavid was picked first overall. Eichel was a product of the USA National Hockey Team Development Program from 2012-2014, and following his second season, he signed a commitment letter to Boston University, where he played for one seasons before being drafted. Eichel has consistently been linked to the Bruins whenever conversations come up about his future in Buffalo; the reason behind this is because Eichel hails from North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and grew up a Bruins fan. Eichel himself has even intimated in the past that playing for the Bruins has always been something that has interested him.
Starting off with the pros to obtaining Eichel, the most obvious pro is his immense talent. You don’t get drafted second overall for nothing, and in most other years, Eichel likely would’ve gone first overall were it not for Connor McDavid. His draft pedigree is not the only indication of his skill either, given he has scored at least 20 goals and 30 assists in every NHL season under his belt. The only exception to this being the 2020-21 season, where he only played 21 games, although he did still have 16 assists in those 21 games.
Another pro would be the fact that if the Bruins were to acquire Eichel, they would be solving a future potential problem at center. Currently, behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, there is no young center in the Bruins organization that looks to be the heir apparent to the top-line center role. With Eichel only being 24 years old, the Bruins would then have a bona fide top-line center that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup with his talent. To give you an idea of the kind of talent I’m talking about, take a look at this.
Finally, for pros, depending on how you look at Eichel’s contract, the good side is that Eichel is tied up until the 2025-26 season. Having a player like Eichel on a contract until he is 29 is a good thing. However, the cap hit for Eichel’s contract leads us into the cons…
While Eichel’s contract is good in the sense that he would be under team control for another five years, his cap hit for all five of those years is $10 million dollars per year. The money in and of itself is not necessarily bad; players in Eichel’s bracket of skill are typically paid similarly or more. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Artemi Panarin are all players of similar skill who are paid more than Eichel (just to name a few).
But what do those players have in common? Their teams either didn’t make the playoffs or failed to advance past the first round (sorry, Leafs fans). In a tight salary cap era, paying a player that much money can make it quite difficult to put together a decent team around them because teams don’t have the cap space. In fact, of the ten players in the NHL who make more than Jack Eichel, the only one to make the cup finals was Carey Price, and his team was soundly beaten in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Not to harp on the salary cap issue too much, but I think it’s important to mention how in recent years, the Bruins have managed to sign their top players to incredibly team-friendly deals, particularly when you think of Pastrnak and Marchand’s contracts. Given the point totals those two put up, you could easily say they are underpaid, but what those contracts have allowed the team to do should not be understated. Bringing in a player who would be making $3.5 million more than Marchand and Pastrnak sends the wrong message to the team, and I think makes management weaker in future salary negotiations.
Another con would be Eichel’s injury issues. In his six seasons since being drafted, he has yet to play a full 82 game season. In his first year, he played 81 of 82, so that is a little harsh to say, but since then, he has missed time in every single season due to injury. This is not the kind of track record you want from a player you would be paying $10 million per season. For that kind of money, you need to be getting close to, if not all 82 games played. That’s not even taking into account his neck injury, which still remains incredibly unclear as to whether or not he has fully healed.
The last con I can think of is the cost it would take to acquire Eichel. Players of his caliber don’t just get given away for draft picks and low prospects. They typically go for a roster player or a top prospect, as well as multiple first-round picks. Not only do the Bruins not currently have a top-level prospect, but GM Don Sweeney has also been loathing to give up first-round picks since he took over as GM. This would be a challenging trade to make and one that would cost a king’s ransom. Eichel does not have the No-Move clause in his contract that Taylor Hall had, which would allow him to dictate which team he wants to go to. This means wherever Eichel is traded; it will likely be the team that offers the most.
Taking the pros and cons into account, my opinion on trading for Jack Eichel is that the Bruins should stay away. While having a player like that on the Bruins would be incredible, I think the cost would be too high and the risk too great. The kind of trade capital and cap space that it would take to acquire him would be better spent on shoring up the defense and the fourth line and making a few more runs at the Stanley Cup while the window is open.