On the Buffalo Sabres and what it takes to get Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres basically fired everyone yesterday, which led to the inevitable Jack Eichel discussion. Eichel is one of the best players in the game right now and is signed to a pretty team friendly deal at “only” $10 million a year through his age 30 season. The Eichel discussions are mostly conjecture, and in no way, shape, or form do I think Buffalo is actually entertaining trading Eichel. However this is a team that needs a true overhaul after failing to surround Eichel with an actual competent hockey team, and he’s their best trade chip. After all, Chris Drury was a Sabre when Buffalo last won a playoff series.
There’s no need to go into what kind of player Eichel is. He’s a 1C and a game changer. The connection to the Rangers is obvious, as David Quinn coached Eichel in college. Eichel on the Rangers would give them that legitimate 1-2 punch down the middle with Mika Zibanejad, and you know he’d look good with Panarin on his wing. A top-six comprised of Eichel, Zibanejad, Panarin, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, one of Kaapo Kakko/Vitali Kravtsov would be lethal.
Now of course the concern is cost. Eichel, even if I were to actual believe Buffalo would move him, would cost a fortune. Believe it or not, the Rangers may actually have the pieces to make something like this work. The starting cost is at least Filip Chytil and probably Tony DeAngelo, as a start. You have to give to get, after all.
Losing DeAngelo would hurt, but Adam Fox is more well rounded and it’s safe to assume the Rangers would be able to shoulder that loss with Nils Lundkvist on his way at some point. Chytil’s loss wouldn’t be as pronounced because he’d be shifted to 3C at that point, making him replaceable in this scenario. Let’s assume a first round pick is needed as well, plus a mid-level prospect, and Buffalo kicks in a secondary piece. I say mid-level prospect because DeAngelo has relatively significant value on the ice (off the ice is another story).
Aside: I wonder how much Chytil and DeAngelo actually moves the needle on this. DeAngelo is a 70 point right defenseman, a pretty rare occurrence in the NHL. Chytil has underlying numbers that show he should be able to handle the 2C job. I wonder if Buffalo would value Brett Howden more, but that’s just a pipe dream.
For a third time, I don’t think Eichel is being shopped. But these teams actually do sync up as trade partners in the current term. Long-term, the Rangers would have cap concerns, but shedding DeAngelo ($5 million most likely) and eventually shedding Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, and Brendan Smith frees up a lot of space for their RFAs coming up. This type of trade would also force them to trade Ryan Strome, who is likely coming in pricier than most expected.
The Rangers would be sacrificing depth for more stable top-six production in this scenario. Depth can be acquired rather easily, and the Rangers would already have Kravtsov/Kakko, Jesper Fast (maybe), Julien Gauthier, Phil di Giuseppe, and Brendan Lemieux to fill out the wings. Someone other than Howden as the 3C would be needed, since it’s been established that Howden isn’t a viable NHLer yet.
This is the type of move the Rangers make if they believe they can compete for a Stanley Cup in the next 2-3 seasons, which I believe they can. After that the cap becomes a concern with expected RFA second and third contracts becoming the primary focus. For the fourth and final time, I don’t think this is something that Buffalo entertains at all, but it’s fun speculating.