Golden Knights Should Be Realistic About Acquiring Eichel

Throughout the 2020-21 season, Jack Eichel has been a hot topic. Between trade rumors and his injury status, he has filled the hockey world with numerous stories over the last year. Now it seems like the trade talks have begun to strengthen and a new team has entered the sweepstakes: the Vegas Golden Knights. However, with limited salary cap space and the Buffalo Sabre’s high asking price, it will make it extremely difficult to facilitate this move. 

Why is Vegas Interested?

The Golden Knights have had plenty of success in their short, four-year existence and have managed to acquire a plethora of valuable players. The team is led by players like Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Alex Pietrangelo. So why would Vegas need another big-name player?  The answer revolves around their lack of depth at center and struggles on the power play. 

Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone
Mark Stone leadership of the Golden Knights provides a spark for the team each game (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Currently, the only centers that have spent time on the Golden Knights roster are Chandler Stephenson, Cody Glass, William Karlsson and Nicolas Roy. However, Glass was not an everyday player and Roy will found himself on the wing occasionally. Tomas Nosek and Patrick Brown, who centered the fourth line during the 2020-21 season, are currently unrestricted free agents. This lack of depth at center has seen Vegas struggle at times. For example, when Stephenson got injured during the playoffs, the Golden Knights failed to put together lines that could score. By adding Eichel, Vegas would finally have a true first-line center with real scoring ability.

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel is a target for many teams this off-season (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another reason why the Golden Knights would inquire about Eichel is due to his work on the power play. Recently, the Golden Knights have struggled heavily with the man advantage. During the 2020-21 regular season, Vegas finished 22nd with a 17.8% success rate on the power play. They were even worse in the playoffs as they finished last with a 9.3 PP%

Adding Eichel to their power play could see the Golden Knights turn this downward trend around. Eichel has 127 power-play points (PPP) in his career and has scored at least 20 PPP in all but one season. Last season, he only produced 9 PPP because he suffered a season-ending injury. However, his ability to create offense and score goals could make him a key acquisition for any team that can trade for him. 

Harsh Reality for Vegas

The one problem that is seemingly unavoidable for the Golden Knights is the salary Cap. As of right now, they only have $6,097,561 in free space. This is well below what it would take to bring Eichel to Vegas. He currently has a cap hit of $10 million. 

Vegas’ cap space is also most likely to shrink as Alec Martinez is set to become a free agent this summer. He has proven to be one of the most consistent players on the Golden Knights’ blue line and is a must-sign player for the team. He is a prominent player on the penalty kill and can fill in on the power play when needed. Martinez also finds himself among the league leaders in plus-minus. Last season, he finished with a plus-28 rating, proving how important he is to the team. He was also in the top-20 for scoring amongst defensemen.

Alec Martinez Vegas Golden Knights
Alec Martinez has proven his worth for the Golden Knights and should be a top priority this off-season (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

At 33-years-old, Martinez is the oldest defenseman on the Golden Knights. This should not deter the team, as he is still playing at an extremely high level. His experience and play style is needed for the Golden Knights to capture the Stanley Cup. He is coming off of a 6 year, $24 million contract with an average annual value of $4 million that he signed as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Although he will probably not get the same length, he could easily sign for around the same AAV. If this were the case, Vegas would see their cap space fall to just over $2 million. This would mean Vegas would need to move a considerable amount of money even to make this possible.

However, Buffalo does not just want any players in return for Eichel. They have made it clear that the asking price is high. The Sabres are looking for young players, top prospects and draft picks. This return should concern Golden Knights fans, as the team has a history of trading top prospects for established players. The most notable one being trading Nick Suzuki to Montreal for Pacioretty.

Nick Suzuki Montreal Canadiens
Nick Suzuki has evolved into a true first-line center after being traded by the Golden Knights (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As of right now, the only players that could fill Buffalo’s request are Alex Tuch, Cody Glass and Peyton Krebs. These players are too important for the future of the organization to be traded. Tuch has proven himself to be an essential part of the Golden Knights. Although he is only on the third line, his role goes way beyond this. Because there is so much star-power on the Vegas roster, he has been forced to play lower in the lineup. Despite this, he remains one of Vegas’ biggest offensive threats. He is sixth all-time in franchise scoring. Throughout his career, he has been consistently improving and creating more chances on offense. He has also worked his way into being a part of the Golden Knights’ penalty kill. 

In addition to Tuch, Krebs and Glass will most likely get consistent playing time with the Golden Knights next season. Both are former first-round draft picks and are highly skilled players. Although Glass did not break out like Vegas thought he would, there was still a significant improvement in his game. He was also a solid contributor on the power play and proved he had chemistry with both Stone and Pacioretty. Krebs has still yet to prove himself at the NHL level as he only has played in four games. However, he did record in his debut with an assist against the Minnesota Wild. These players are key assets for the Golden Knights moving forward and could help stay competitive in the future.

Even if Vegas were to present those players to the Sabres as an offer, they would not be able to afford Eichel if they re-sign Martinez. They would most likely have to either hope that Buffalo would retain salary or dump salary elsewhere. This would create a similar situation to how the Golden Knights were able to acquire Pietrangelo. However, Vegas cannot afford to dump salary unless it comes from the goaltenders. With Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner making up 14.7% of Vegas’ salary, trading one of them would make the most sense. However, the two are coming off an incredible season where they shared the net. The pair was responsible for winning the William M. Jennings Trophy and Fleury winning his first Vezina Trophy.

Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights
In his 17th season, Marc-Andre Fleury was able to capture his first Vezina Trophy (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The goaltending duo is one of the Golden Knights’ biggest strengths and one that team owner Bill Foley is proud to have. He has made it clear that he wants to have two elite goalies and for Fleury to finish his career in Vegas. Also, with his lofty contract, the Golden Knights struggled to find a trading partner for the eventual Vezina winner before the 2020-21 season. As for Lehner, it appears that he is going to be the main goalie for Vegas once Fleury’s contract expires after next season. Having just signed a 5 year, $25 million contract last summer, it was clear that the Golden Knights have him penciled in as their future starter.

Robin Lehner Vegas Golden Knights
Robin Lehner appears set to be the next starter for the Golden Knights (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Overall, it does not make sense for the Golden Knights to pursue Eichel. Although they need a true number one center, they simply cannot afford him. Between the asking price and his cap hit, the Golden Knights should not pursue him past just initial interest. They can not risk their organization’s future by continuing to promote a “win now” mindset. Unfortunately for Golden Knights fans, this is one superstar they cannot get.

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