For 16 teams, they are focused on the Stanley Cup Playoffs and are aiming to continue their seasons. Unless you’re the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames, the season is over for non-playoff teams, and preparation for the offseason is underway. The end-of-season press conferences coming out of Buffalo last week indicated that change would likely come. Key players such as Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart could be finding new homes for next season, and Rasmus Ristolainen might finally get the much-needed change that he deserves.
The question on most minds is the potential return of an Eichel trade. How can the team become better by trading their franchise center? Most believe it will be impossible, and although they likely won’t get better, it doesn’t mean there is no hope in acquiring valuable players in return. The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings have been the most speculated teams to be interested in him, but there will be many potential suitors. An intriguing team is the Calgary Flames, as we know they need to shake up the core of their team. They underperformed during the regular season, ranking 19th in team save percentage (SV%), despite being a strong team at 5-on-5. Goaltending may be the issue in Calgary, but players such as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan have been heavily criticized for their poor seasons. Something needs to change.
In this piece, I will dive in on the Flames player that the Sabres should target and how this could become one of the biggest deals of the past decade. It is time to construct a trade that will drastically alter the state of two franchises; let’s begin.
Matthew Tkachuk: A Gifted Player, and an Anomaly in the NHL
This idea came from a tweet by Rachel Doerrie, which can be seen below. Matthew Tkachuk has had an abysmal season based on baseline stats, scoring only 0.74 points per game (P/PG) after accumulating 0.92 P/PG in his previous two seasons combined. He also has scored only 25 points at even strength, placing him third on the Flames. This season is likely an outlier for him in terms of his production, but a change of scenery could help kickstart his numbers into an upwards trajectory. It all depends on the players that Calgary wants to build around, and although Tkachuk should be one of those guys, the Sabres should be asking for him.
When talking about the aspects of Tkachuk’s game, most talk about his tenacity without the puck. He is tough to play against and can easily get under your skin. For example, his ability to get under Drew Doughty’s skin led to this comment in the media by the King’s defender, stating, “I’m over him. To be honest, [Matthew Tkachuk] thinks he’s something, but he’s not even getting close to anything I’ve done in my career.” Drew is probably right in that sentence, but the fact that he felt compelled to comment speaks to how frustrated he was by Tkachuk. So, when a player that can score at his level and play with an edge is an option in a trade, it must be considered. Only Tom Wilson could possibly be a comparable player, and Tkachuk is the better of the two. Obviously, Eichel is a better player and plays a tougher position, which is why this would be a part of a bigger deal.
Rachel’s potential trade is intriguing, and although swapping Monahan for Gaudreau could be considered, I would say that you should trade for the star winger. Monahan is an offensive black hole when he is on the ice without Gaudreau. Looking at his expected goals numbers from 2017-2020, his -0.66 expected goals differential was below-replacement level when playing without Gaudreau. To simply put it, he doesn’t drive the play on his line, and Buffalo needs those types of players; there isn’t a fit there.
Rasmus Ristolainen Could Be Involved in This Deal
Let’s face it, Mark Giordano is not getting any younger and cannot be expected to be their best offensive defenseman. Chris Tanev has excelled in his defensive play, and Rasmus Andersson is stable at both ends of the ice. Ristolainen could quarterback their first power play unit and be effective, as well as playing second-pairing minutes at 5-on-5. He would have a decreased role and would be put into a position to succeed. So, as Rachel mentioned above, a hypothetical Eichel and Ristolainen for Tkachuk and Gaudreau trade could work, but would these teams do it?
Andrew Mangiapane is a player that has been underutilized by the Flames and would thrive in Gaudreau’s position. Since the start of last season, he currently has 30 even-strength goals, tied for 39th in the NHL. He is ahead of the likes of Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Landeskog, and Andrei Svechnikov. Basically, the Flames have a player that can replace Gaudreau already in their system. Inserting Eichel into their lineup to play with him would only improve his production. There may need to be more pieces from both sides to make it work, but those would be the core pieces sent to both teams.
It will be hard to come out of an Eichel trade being satisfied with the return, but it isn’t impossible. Tkachuk would add an element to the team that most organizations don’t have, and Gaudreau would drive the play. Calgary gets a franchise center and a reclamation project that can drive the offense from the blue line. This trade would send a message to both teams that change has come, and if you can’t get on board, then you’re next. I think this could work.
Jordan Jacklin is a freelance writer who covers the Buffalo Sabres here at The Hockey Writers. Jordan is a student at Ryerson’s Sport Media program and uses analytics and video scouting to evaluate your favourite players in the game.