The term “generational superstar” gets thrown around pretty loosely these days. Most of the players who are dropped in the category are usually really good, but not great. An exception to that rule is Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel.
It’s been a rumor for quite some time that Eichel is unhappy in Buffalo. A post-season interview with ESPN last week confirmed the suspicions as he vented about his frustrations about missing the playoffs.
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated. You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have [gone], I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”
This coming just a few days after the release of the 24-team playoff format was announced, and the Sabres were on the outside looking in. It marks the ninth straight season Buffalo missed the playoffs, five of which Eichel has been around for.
With the regular season in the books, Jack Eichel wrapped up with 36 goals and 78 points in 68 games. The goal total easily topped his previous career high of 28, and the point total was just shy of his 82 point peak, a number he surely would’ve smashed if the season was not ended early.
As his displeasure in Buffalo grows, is it possible he could demand a trade? First and foremost, what does the price tag on Jack Eichel look like? Needless to say, players like Eichel don’t get traded very often. This wouldn’t be one of those trades that starts with “middle-of-the-road prospect and a second-round pick” like seen with other proposed trades, this would have to be a huge impact deal for the Sabres.
The Sabres have a hair over 850,000 in cap space as of this writing, but have 12 players that don’t have a contract beyond the 2019-20 season, so an offseason move means they have pretty much as money to spend as they would like. The Flyers, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of cap space. With just 70,000 dollars in cap space to finish out the season and no major contracts coming off the books, that would have to play a factor in adding Jack Eichel’s $10 million-a-year contract.
The Sabres would no-doubt start the trade talks for the 23-year-old Eichel with Flyers superstar Sean Couturier. The 27-year-old Couturier is at the peak of his career, finishing the season with 22 goals and 59 points during the shortened season, following up two consecutive 76-point campaigns. Couturier’s name is also swirling as a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best two-way player. For the trade to work financially, the Flyers would need to throw in James Van Riemsdyk, who is making $7 million for three more seasons. JVR finished the season with 19 goals and 40 points, his worst offensive season since his injury-riddled 2015-16 season where he only suited up for 40 games. Partner that with Couturier’s $4.3 million cap hit and the trade will work out economically for both teams, now it’s just a matter of what else the Sabres would want.
Even after years of tanking and high first-round picks, the Sabres still need help pretty much everywhere in their lineup. So where are the Sabres lacking the most that the Flyers have a surplus of? One of Buffalo’s biggest issues has been goaltending. Even though they have 21-year-old Pekka Lukkonen in the system, he is their lone hope for a better future in net. Luckily, the Flyers have an excess of goaltenders, with Felix Sandstrom and Kirill Ustimenko already in the minor leagues and Roddy Ross, Samuel Errson and Ivan Fedotov waiting in the wings. With Carter Hart already holding down the starting reigns for the foreseeable future, The Flyers could afford to part with one of their prospects. Which one? Well it’d probably have to be either Sandstrom or Ustimenko given they are the closest to NHL-readiness. For the sake of argument, let’s say Ustimenko, who made the jump from the ECHL to the AHL at the end of the Phantoms season after finding his footing in North America before Sandstrom did.
So far, that’s Sean Couturier, James Van Riemsdyk, and Kirill Ustimenko for Jack Eichel. Enough? Probably not.
The Sabres would probably ask for one of the many young stars the Flyers have on their roster. Since they would have already added two forwards and a goalie, they would probably also target a defenseman as well. Enter Phil Myers or Travis Sanheim. Of the two, which would the Flyers part with?
The Sabres have first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on their blue line and, well, not much else. They could be on the hunt for another young star-in-the-making to put on that top pair with Dahlin.
If they’re looking for the biggest immediate impact their guy is Sanheim, if they are looking for a good player now with an extremely high potential for the future, they would pick Myers. Given the fact the Sabres haven’t made the playoffs in almost a decade, they would probably need the best player available now. That would be Travis Sanheim.
Sanheim has developed into on the of the Flyers bright young stars and a has settled in nicely on the second pair, mainly alongside Phil Myers during the 2019-20 season. Given plenty of room to grow once Dave Hakstol got fired in December of 2018, Travis Sanheim has seen a vast improvement in the defensive side of his game. Still behind Ivan Provorov and, for the time being, Matt Niskanen, his potential has a cap on it in Philadelphia at the time. He would immediately join Dahlin on the Sabres’ top defense pair.
The Sabres would probably ask for a draft pick as well, which would be the least painful part of this trade, as the Flyers are gearing up for another Stanley Cup run and hopefully won’t have a high pick for a long time to come. They also have all of their first and second round picks every year to come.
Sean Couturier, Travis Sanheim, James Van Riemsdyk, and a 2021 first round pick for Jack Eichel. Reality is, who knows if that is enough, but it is what a realistic ask from the Sabres would look like. The Flyers may even have to throw in another prospect to seal the deal, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable if the Sabres tried to snag top prospects Cam York, Yegor Zamula, Bobby Brink, or even Morgan Frost.
Is it reasonable for the Flyers? Yes. Is it reasonable for the Sabres? Also yes. Buffalo needs to do something to make their franchise a playoff caliber team quickly. Nine years of mediocrity has the fanbase up in arms and preaching patience and sticking to their own “process” might not hold weight any longer. Adding Couturier, Van Riemsdyk and Sanheim would change the game for the Sabres immediately and give the team some direction and a better foundation to build on.
Yes, losing key members of the current Flyer roster would hurt. Sean Couturier is at the peak of his career, Sanheim has show huge promise as a potential future number two defenseman, and either four of the prospects listed have bright NHL futures ahead of them. But Jack Eichel is one of those players that doesn’t grow on trees and certainly doesn’t come up in trade talks.
Kevin Hayes has come in and brought a phenomenal two-way game with him. His presence will help alleviate the loss of Couturier, and if Nolan Patrick can return or Morgan Frost can make the jump to the NHL, the center depth wouldn’t take as big a hit as it may seem. Just imagine a potential 40-goal scorer alongside the playmaking ability of Claude Giroux and Travis Konency.
Next season, Jack Eichel will enter the third year of his eight-year, $80 million contract. His play continues to evolve year after year and at just 23, there’s a good chance the best of Eichel is still years in the future. It would be one of the biggest high-risk high-reward trades in Flyers history, and the biggest game changer since Eric Lindros. Does it happen? who knows, but the Flyers have more than enough assets at their disposal to make it happen. You know what they say, sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, and in this case, bringing in a bona fide superstar as the Flyers get closer to legit contenders for a Stanley Cup may just be worth whatever the Sabres ask.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: sportsnet.ca