Sabres News & Rumors: Eichel Untouchable, Hall, Reinhart & More

The past week was news-heavy—a hint of the Buffalo Sabres’ future. Expect more trades, more injuries.

But, the show must go on. For the Sabres, that means chugging along with 17 consecutive losses while still having to show up to the rink to compete night in and night out.

In this edition of the Sabres News and Rumors rundown: general manager Kevyn Adams has one dilemma to rule them all: is Jack Eichel now on the verge of being untouchable if the Sabres want to keep their latest rebuild on track? Or would moving him be highly beneficial for a rebuild? Adams’ current asking price for Taylor Hall might be slightly steeper than some are willing to pay, but no one can fault him for starting the process high. The Sabres wanted more for Eric Staal than what they got, and the team is looking at improving its scouting department, which ownership gutted along with most of the team’s hockey operations last June.

Should Jack Eichel Be Untouchable?

As the Buffalo Sabres season spiraled out of control shortly after their January/February COVID-19 lockdown (or right out of the gate depending on who you talk to), speculation about an Eichel trade went from crazy talk to earnest belief. 

But the coin has flipped once again as some hockey minds around the National Hockey League tend to agree that we’re right back to square one: trading Eichel is probably not the best idea. His injury and the still yet-to-be-determined timeline for his return is a factor here, but so is the amount of money involved in the trade.

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

According to The Athletic’s Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek, who have spoken to NHL GMs on the topic of trading the Sabres’ star centerman, he might be in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.

“…not a single NHL GM contacted this week thinks a deal of that magnitude can, or even should, be on the table with the organization in disarray… Said one exec: “If (Sabres GM) Kevyn (Adams) ever trades Jack, the rebuild goes back five years.”

‘NHL Trade Deadline Big Board: Taylor Hall, Mattias Ekholm and 28 others who could be dealt.’ Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek for The Athletic. Mar 19, 2021

If rebuilding is what Adams is setting his sights on, what he does with Eichel will be one of his most carefully considered moves. On the one hand, keeping him in place as the team’s captain means a legitimate top centerman is available to the team as they soul search their system, current roster, and any players they bring in for a way out of the utter hell Sabres fans endure. 

On the other, trading Eichel can bring invaluable picks and prospects to go along with the already high draft picks the team is likely to get from this year and potential years that follow. With a new scouting staff on the way (more on that later), this would give them plenty to do. Not to mention, having $10 million more in cap space could be an intriguing scenario.

There’s no question that Eichel is frustrated in Buffalo. Unless he has changed his tune from the last off-season during this brutal year. If Adams trades him, it will signal a clear break from the past, a symbolic passing of the torch. But to who?

Sabres For Sale

The Sabres have hung a metaphorical “For Sale” sign on the KeyBank Centre’s front facade, especially after firing head coach Ralph Krueger. No, that doesn’t mean the team is moving. It does mean that a hockey-mad city like Buffalo– with fans as good as anywhere in the league — deserves a better team and is working towards that. Baby steps. 

They’ve moved Eric Staal and third-string goalie Jonas Johansson already, and this might not be their last move heading towards this trade deadline. The third-round draft pick from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Staal gives them three picks in each of the first three rounds. The fifth-round pick in that deal restocks their later-round draft options. With it, the Sabres now have two picks in that round, rather than just one. I expect they’ll seek another fifth-rounder in a future trade. The sixth-round pick the Sabres got for Johansson means they have four picks in that round of the draft.

Custance and Duhatschek also reported that GM Adams is looking to move Sam Reinhart — but not for picks and prospects.

Said another GM: “The ask is for a top-six forward. He’s not looking for a draft pick. He wants someone in a similar age bracket, maybe a different position, maybe a left shot, maybe a center, but a top-six forward. But if you give that, are you any better? Or are you just treading water?”

The Athletic

Back to Eichel: A few weeks ago, it seemed that trading him was the next play for Adams to jumpstart the rebuild. This trade’s return was an expected bounty of draft picks and prospects. It now looks like Hall is the primary target to be jettisoned from the team in exchange for parts of their future. But let’s not get carried away about what he would bring in return.

Asking Price for Hall

Hockey insider Pierre LeBrun Tweeted on Friday that Hall’s asking price would involve a first-round pick. This is based on information he has gathered from his sources around the league.  

It’s always been assumed that Hall would return less than the Sabres’ wildest dreams. When he was traded from the New Jersey Devils to the Arizona Coyotes in 2019, he garnered three prospects and a conditional first-round draft pick. That was not long after winning the Hart Trophy in 2018 as the NHL’s most valuable player. 

He won’t fetch that now. And LeBrun even suspects that a first-round pick might be a bit high of an ask for Hall. That’s because the trade market this year favors buyers. There won’t be a large market for rental players with many teams bumping up against the cap or financial trouble tied to a pandemic year. Also, he just hasn’t played well.

“I think (the price) is that high because it’s not April 12,” LeBrun said during a Friday appearance on TSN Radio 1050’s OverDrive. “We’re two weeks out (from the deadline), so I think Adams will start where he needs to start, and then the price will start coming down. Good on him if he gets the first, but I think it’s difficult in this year’s market.”

Sabres Wanted More for Staal

In the lead-up to the Staal deal, Adams was scraping around the league looking for a second-round pick for the former Stanley Cup Champ, LeBrun said. He didn’t get it. Instead, the Sabres took the aforementioned third and fifth-round picks in the 2021 draft from the Canadiens in exchange for the veteran. This, for LeBrun, emphasized what the market looks like this year. 

“Do they get a first for Taylor Hall? If you’re asking me right now, I don’t think they will,” he told the OverDrive crew. “But I agree with them trying. Why would you lower your price two weeks out?”

That said, LeBrun doesn’t believe too many teams are going to be in the hunt for Hall right now.  

What happens between now and the deadline will impact whether Hall is traded at all and what the potential return will be. Unless Adams moves him before the day arrives, he will likely take calls on Hall right up until the deadline. 

Sabres Beefing up Scouting Staff

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported this week that the Sabres are making some scouting changes. According to Friedman, interviews are underway for the assistant general manager position, with former Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Jason Karmanos reportedly the front runner. 

Karmanos and Adams were both with the Carolina Hurricanes organization and won a cup together in 2006. 

On the scouting front, Adams’ rejigging of the department seems to mark a departure from owners Terry and Kim Pegula’s stated goal of becoming “effective, efficient, economic” in the wake of the total destruction of the Sabres’ hockey operations department this past June. That mantra resulted in the firing of 14 scouts. The Sabres don’t have anyone watching the European leagues or the Canadian Hockey League’s OHL and WHL.

As Sabres’ writer for The Athletic John Vogl put it, the three Es get an F. 

The Pegulas’ desire to “get leaner” has contributed to an NHL laughingstock. The failure has also led to an overstretched general manager and an underwhelming scouting staff.

‘Sabres GM begins repairing damage done to front office, scouting departments’ John Vogl The Athletic Mar 25, 2021

Adams told media the team would be adding to its scouting staff, a topic at recent internal meetings with ownership. 

These are, indeed, vital moves. The scouting department has only 10 people on staff and only seven scouts, with no delineation between pro and amateur scouting responsibilities. That’s an important distinction because the former provides information for trades and is essential during the deadline and free agency seasons, while amateur scouts head up the draft. These are two very different jobs.

The moves Adams made this week brought separation back between these two scouting departments. Jeremiah Crowe, former director of scouting, takes over the pro side, while the former head of collegiate scouting, Jerry Forton, moves into the amateur side’s lead position. 

“And we’ll be adding to that staff,” Adams said this week. “All along, the goal has been to kind of take it all in and understand where we go from here and where do we need certain areas to be added to our hockey department. We’re going to do that.”

Other Notes

New interim coach Don Granato, who took over after Krueger was fired earlier this month, entered into COVID-19 protocols with interim assistant coach Matt Ellis this week. But on Saturday, they rejoined the team for the game against the Boston Bruins. 

Also, this week, backup goalie Carter Hutton was injured in a game versus the New York Rangers. As he headed to the injured reserve, starting goalie Linus Ullmark met him while traveling in the opposite direction. Hutton is expected to be out until at least Mar 29. After a month away from patrolling the crease, Ullmark returned Saturday versus the Bruins. 

This year, watching the Sabres is a bit like being force-fed horse dung while being chained upside down in a barn with urine-soaked floors. Imagine that sensory experience. But, as the trade deadline approaches, fans and rubberneckers can’t seem to turn away from the wreck. Wondering what moves Adams will make is everyone’s new favorite game since the actual games on the ice are stinking up the joint.

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