Friedman: Sabres might “punt” Eichel to another team – trade discount incoming?

Yesterday, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Sabres are in a tough spot with Jack Eichel. Given that they have the #1 overall pick, Friedman said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Sabres “punt” the Eichel injury situation to another team. Does that mean the Rangers can get Eichel at a trade discount?

Friedman doesn’t specifically call out the injury, but that is what he’s talking about. It’s very clear the Eichel injury clouds everything. So let’s get into what this injury actually is.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, neither are you. I’m going based off what’s been reported and Googling what I can find off reputable spine health sources.

Injury Diagnosis

The diagnosis for Eichel is a herniated disc in his neck. According to Spine-Health.com, the pain can be an electric-like pain that goes down the neck/arm (or both) and severely restricts neck movement. That’s difficult enough for normal people, let alone hockey players. The issue with Eichel is that this appears to be a severe herniated disc, and that a cervical nerve root may be pinched.

This is pretty treatable without surgery. The cause of this is the trauma from a hit on March 7 that knocked him from the game. This is *not* a degenerative disc, that we know of. The disconnect, per The Athletic, is that Eichel wants surgery, and the team wants him to rehab the injury. While most herniated discs don’t require surgery, the fact that he’s a hockey player complicates matters.

Rehab vs. Surgical Treatments

The issue in Buffalo is the treatment disconnect. Per Spine-Health, rehab is a very viable option for treating this injury. The goal of rehab would be to strengthen the neck muscles, improving posture and improving strength and flexibility over time. It’s a longer term approach to the injury. This is not what Eichel wants. Eichel wants the surgery

Again per Spine-Health, the most common surgery, and the one Buffalo wants Eichel to get, is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Spine Fusion (ACDF) surgery. Basically, the herniated disc is removed and the other vertebrae fuse together naturally. Sometimes a plate can be added for stability. It is a much quicker process and has a better chance for Eichel to return to the ice pain free.

It is worth noting that the ACDF surgery has not been performed on an NHL player. That is Buffalo’s concern. Or so they say.

Disconnect and Punting

From what is being reported by people outside the team, Buffalo doesn’t want to pay for the surgery. It’s tough to fault Eichel for wanting the surgery, as it has had good success in other patients. Buffalo doesn’t really have a medical leg to stand on, as NFL players have returned to play following the same surgery. What the surgery doesn’t cover is if this is a degenerative issue. Since I am working off Google, I’m not going to speculate on anything regarding degenerative disc issues. I’m focusing solely on the herniated disc treatment only.

Buffalo now wants to punt the injury to another team, at least per Friedman. If that happens, it means the acquiring team would need to pay for the surgery. That likely means an Eichel trade would come at a discount. What kind of discount remains to be seen, but this is comparable to trading a player before a big bonus payment. Real dollars matter, especially in a post COVID world.

Impacting Trade Cost

How much does this impact an Eichel trade? That is almost impossible to determine. We do know two facts with these kinds of trades:

  1. It never costs as much as we think, especially with injury concerns like this
  2. The team trading the best player never gets proper value

It seems the Sabres are bottoming out again and rebuilding with the first overall pick. It’s safe to assume any trade for Eichel will include Ryan Strome (salary purposes) and the #15 overall pick. From there, it is difficult to predict what Buffalo wants. They have holes everywhere in their prospect system, with the only notables being Rasmus Dahlin and Dylan Cozens. They may go for best available prospects as opposed to targeting a specific position.

What it means for the Rangers

Keeping all this in mind, we can probably eliminate any trade scenario that involves gutting the Rangers system or young NHL talent. It can also be inferred that since Buffalo doesn’t want to pay for the surgery, Buffalo doesn’t want to retain any salary in a trade either. That lowers the cost more. Luckily for the Rangers, they have cap space to spare.

This is where it gets interesting. Given the salary question and the injury question, Kaapo Kakko is off the table, unlike last offseason. It’s probably safe to assume that Nils Lundkvist and Braden Schneider aren’t going to be dangled in this trade, again because of the cap and injury considerations. Does that mean Matthew Robertson or Zac Jones are the top defense prospects available? It could.

The Rangers do need to give something, and I find it difficult to believe the Rangers do this without including Morgan Barron. A sweetener is probably needed too.

If a trade discount for Eichel, given the cap and injury concerns, gets to the point where the Rangers aren’t giving up any ‘A’ prospects or player, you have to make the trade. It all comes down to cost. And whether LA offers up one of their top center prospects.