Three weeks after their 2020-21 season concluded, Jack Eichel, the Buffalo Sabres‘ star center, expressed his frustration with his team’s inability to procure a winning season since the former Boston Terrier entered the league in 2015. It appears that his relationship with the Sabres may soon be coming to an end, and teams around the league are lining up to gauge the Sabres’ valuation of their top-line center.
The Anaheim Ducks are one of those teams, reports The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun, and they certainly have the firepower necessary to pry Eichel away from the Sabres. The only question is, would the Ducks be willing to do so?
It’s been three consecutive seasons since the Ducks were last in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s a mild length of absence when you consider that the Sabres have missed the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons — the longest active postseason drought in the NHL. Eichel’s frustration at continually missing the playoffs won’t necessarily be resolved with a relocation to Southern California either.
The Ducks finished just above the league-worst Sabres this season and, as of now, will be drafting third overall after falling below the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Lottery. Acquiring Eichel, whatever the cost would be, isn’t likely to get Anaheim over the hump if the rest of the team repeats its lackluster performance from this past season.
Longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Though not the same elite playmaker that he was during the early 2000’s, he still possesses better vision and passing than a majority of the Ducks’ forwards. There is little doubt that he would decide to leave the confines of Orange County — or even call it a career, but there has also been nothing to suggest that the 36-year-old will indeed return for his 17th season.
The departure of Getzlaf would leave a tailor-made spot for Eichel, if acquired, to slot in as the Ducks’ bona fide first-line center. Adam Henrique has never scored at the level of a first-line center, and though he had a good showing at the 2021 IIHF World Championship, it’s unlikely that he will experience an uptick in production.
It also may be a little bit too soon for Trevor Zegras to take the reins as the No. 1 center. The 2019 ninth-overall pick impressed during the two stints of his rookie season in which he spent the first part as a winger and the second part as a center, after being sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) to refine his play in his natural position. Whether Getzlaf returns or not, bringing Eichel in to play alongside Zegras would make for a formidable duo down the middle for years to come.
The chances of the Ducks acquiring Eichel appear to be fairly realistic. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported that the Ducks are right in the thick of potential trade discussions involving the Sabres’ star player. The third-overall pick almost certainly has to be at the forefront of discussions, especially since Ducks general manager Bob Murray doesn’t appear keen to include Zegras or 2020 first-round pick Jamie Drysdale. Without either of those two heading east, a potential deal would instead center around the third-overall pick along with perhaps a young scoring winger, a mid-tier prospect and another draft pick.
Most fans would be clamoring for Murray to make that deal in a heartbeat. Getting Eichel while keeping Zegras and Drysdale? Call the police, because we’ve just witnessed a robbery. Of course, real-life trades (generally) do not mimic the deals you can make in the NHL video game series. You have to give a little to get a little, or in this case, a lot. A potential offer could look something like this:
To Ducks: Jack Eichel
To Sabres: No. 3 overall pick, Adam Henrique, Max Comtois, Jacob Perreault
On the surface, fans of both teams may feel like they’re not getting enough value out of this. The one caveat is Eichel’s neck injury, which prematurely ended his 2020-21 season. On May 12, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said that the team is trying to take a conservative approach in regards to Eichel’s rehab after team doctors diagnosed a herniated disk in Eichel’s neck. After he decided to seek a second opinion, which the Sabres supported, both sets of doctors agreed on a conservative approach in order to avoid surgery.
Adams said that the potential surgery that Eichel would have undergone has never been performed on an NHL player. Obviously that would cause concern among not only the Sabres’ front office, but the front office staff of suitors around the league looking to acquire the 24-year-old.
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In this potential deal, not only would the Sabres now have two top-three picks in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, they would also acquire two young scoring wings in Comtois and Perreault. They would also be acquiring a center in Henrique who can be the bridge between now and whenever Dylan Cozens is ready to step into the role of No. 1 center. This doesn’t even take into consideration the return that the Sabres would receive in exchange for Reinhart if he were to be dealt as well.
Now, the variability of where Eichel could be at pre-neck injury and post-neck injury in terms of how he performs can sound troubling, and that’s understandable. It’s also why the package for Eichel could become more about quantity than quality.
Comtois came extremely close to reaching the 20-goal mark on the worst scoring team in the league this season. He scored more goals and points than any player on the Sabres aside from Sam Reinhart. He also had four goals and two assists at the 2021 World Championships for Team Canada. The combination of Comtois and Victor Olofsson on the Sabres’ first line would have plenty of scoring potential.
With Reinhart rumored to be on his way out of Buffalo as well, the Sabres would possess three NHL-caliber centers in Henrique, Casey Mittelstadt and Cozens. Mittelstadt, the former eighth-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, performed well over the final weeks of the 2020-21 NHL season.
In addition, the Sabres will be able to add another dynamic offensive prospect to their pipeline at No. 3 — after presumably taking Michigan’s Owen Power first overall. Assuming that the Seattle Kraken select Matty Beniers, the Sabres would have their choice of William Eklund or Dylan Guenther.
They could also add to their increasingly large list of talented, young blueliners by taking Luke Hughes, who is committed to the University of Michigan for the 2021-22 season. If Beniers were to still be available at No. 3, you would think that Adams at least entertains the possibility of “going blue” with both picks.
Perreault is no throw-in either. After scoring 125 points in two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Sarnia Sting, Perreault tallied 17 points in 27 games during his first season as pro in the AHL. Known for his powerful and accurate shot, Perreault is someone that Murray would likely try his best to avoid including because of how well he could potentially fit with someone like Zegras.
For Anaheim, acquiring Eichel gives them the potential of a dynamic duo down the middle that hasn’t been seen at Honda Center since Ryan Kesler last had both of his hips. You can argue that Eichel and Zegras likely have a higher offensive ceiling than the combination of Getzlaf and Kesler did during their time together. Getzlaf and Zegras employ similar play styles, but Eichel and Kesler are far from players cut from the same mold.
The addition of Eichel would certainly speed up the Ducks’ rebuild by a handful of seasons, but how soon would it be before they make a return to the postseason? The hope would be that in two to three seasons, Zegras and Drysdale will be able to lead the team back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bringing Eichel into the fold would hopefully shorten that wait time.
Derek has been a hockey fan for almost a decade and has been a sports fan in general for more than two decades.
He graduated from UCCS in Colorado Springs, CO in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Communication. He spent the last several years as part of UCCS’ on-campus student newspaper staff (both as a reporter and editor) and is now creating Ducks-related content from his home in Southern California.