In this edition of Sabres News and Rumors: The bad news keeps coming. But soon, fans will be able to watch it all unfold in person.
Five teams are being talked about as possible trade destinations for Jack Eichel, according to Bleacher Report’s Lyle Richardson. BR did a similar look at possible destinations for the captain last September after his “fed up and frustrated” comments that were made just weeks before a major front-office shake-up came from the Sabres. This time around, the trade talk is picking up after Elliotte Friedman appeared on WGR 550’s The Instigators with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet, where the NHL insider said he could see the young American phenom on the move at some point.
If general manager Kevyn Adams decides he wants to trade Eichel, though it won’t happen anytime soon because, like the Sabres’ number one goaltender Linus Ullmark, he’s day-to-day with a lower body injury.
Rasmus Ristolainen could be returning as soon as this weekend if all goes well, and as I mentioned, fans will be returning to the KeyBank Center next month in a limited capacity.
Eichel Trade Talk
With the Sabres’ season heading for the dumpster, talk of trading the 24-year-old Eichel has picked up. Especially after Friedman replied “yes” when asked if he could see the organization ever coming to a point where they would trade him.
BR’s Richardson broke down five possible trade partners. For all the details on how these teams make sense (and what the Sabres could get in return), I highly recommend you check out his piece. I’ll summarize his thoughts here and add some of my own.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have plenty of cap space to take on Eichel’s $10 million average annual value, with $15.1 million available as of the time of writing. The team is right there with the Sabres in the bottom-dwelling crop of the NHL, but the addition of star power like Eichel could bring a boost to the slowly churning rebuild and lighten the load for Dylan Larkin, allowing him to be better utilized on the second line.
Los Angeles Kings
The same day that Friedman made his WGR appearance, Jon Vogl of The Athletic suggested that the Kings could be a possible destination for Eichel if he is traded. Although they aren’t playing like it lately, a lot of the team’s players are getting on in age and the addition of a young elite talent could inject some fresh energy. Eichel would be a nice fit. But even if they drop off a bit, Eichel’s presence might be the rising tide that raises all boats.
New Jersey Devils
Can you imagine what would happen if Eichel got traded to the Devils? With the kind of rivalry that is developing between these two teams after their combined COVID chaos and by the simple fact they’ve played each other multiple times in a short period of time I can’t see that going down well.
The team has a wealth of young talent including Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes and MacKenzie Blackwood. You’ve got to think that Eichel would be able to slide into this group with ease. But, with maybe a bit of recency bias attached, I would have to hazard a guess that seeing him in a Devils jersey would make some Sabres fans outright irate. And not to make light of a deadly disease, but it would be something if he was traded to the Devils, caught COVID and then gave it to the Sabres during game play.
New York Rangers
This was one of the teams that Friedman mentioned on WGR as a possible trade location for Eichel, suggesting the Rangers and the Kings were the two teams with available assets ready to pitch the Sabres’ way. Vogl reported that they looked into acquiring him last fall. The team could have question marks down the middle this year and have plenty of cap space to fit his contract.
It would be a bold move for general manager Peter Dorion and would bolster the team’s rebuild. Eichel would fit right in with good young talent like Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle. Like other teams on Richardson’s list, the salary cap is not an issue if they were to trade for Eichel.
Sabres Get Blue Line Boost With Ristolainen’s Return
After a Feb. 25 morning skate with his teammates, Ristolainen said “I’m really close and I feel really good.” That’s music to the Sabres’ ears as they continue to make do with a patchwork defensive core of young players who are performing outside of their normal roles. It’s especially apparent on the penalty kill, which having Tobias Rieder back in the lineup should mitigate.
“Our D core is not that experienced with the PK at this level,” head coach Ralph Krueger said after Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils. “Right through the whole group we’re asking guys to step up to roles that wouldn’t be their primary role.”
Getting the big guy back in the lineup would be a huge push in the right direction. If you read my colleague’s piece then you know that his battle with COVID-19 was no laughing matter. The Sabres medical team will work with Ristolainen every step of the way to ensure that when he does return he is in peak condition. The optimists among us hope that will be Saturday vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.
According to Krueger, there were no expectations or set dates for Risto’s return, but to see him on the ice again is a big boost for everyone.
“It was when and how he would wake up without any extra fatigue and when and how he would be able to handle the physical strength. We had no idea on the pathway,” the coach said Friday.
“What we are happy about is his amazing physical foundation that he had coming into his battle with COVID is helping to expedite his return. You can just see… all of that pays off for athletes when they come off of this. Hopefully, we can see that again tomorrow morning so we can put him back in the lineup, it’s not a given yet but it’s a high possibility.”
Ullmark and Eichel Both Out
Both Ullmark and Eichel are out with lower-body injuries. Eichel remains day-to-day. Ullmark was having X-rays done when Krueger had his media availability Friday morning and will not be available for the weekend set of back-to-back games with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“We are hoping that it becomes a day-to-day situation after the weekend,” the coach said. Jonas Johansson will come into the fold off of the taxi squad, and Dustin Tokarski will surface from the American Hockey League to fill his spot.
It’s more than likely that Johansson will get a start this weekend with two games in two nights. The Ullmark injury is something to look out for as it exposes a weakness for the organization, but also gives a chance at redemption for Carter Hutton – or perhaps – a chance for Johansson to steal the show. Grab the popcorn.
As for Eichel, Krueger wouldn’t be pinned down on a timeline, saying he was “questionable” for this weekend. We probably won’t know more about the injury he suffered until much later in the season.
Fans to Return to KeyBank Centre
Speaking of later in the season, fans are set to return to the KeyBank Centre on March 20 in a limited capacity. As per New York State regulations, the 19,070 capacity building will be allowed to seat just under 2,000 spectators – or 1970 (10%).
“Fans will be required to follow all state and local health and safety protocols including providing proof of a negative PCR COVID test taken within 72 hours of the game,” a release from the team says. Season ticket holders will have the first opportunity to select their seats and more information about how fans can get tickets will be released within the next few days.
Krueger for one, isn’t optimistic that it will happen on time.
“I’ll be honest, I am not going to even think about it until it happens,” he said. “I have seen in this almost a year of COVID existence, that you cannot plan concretely with anything day-to-day. Of course, any fans in the building will be an energy boost and a bonus. Let’s just hope it actually happens. We would embrace it if it actually becomes reality and we can start getting back to some sense of normalcy because, in the end, we are playing this game to motivate our spectators and fans… We want to see them live in the building.”
Mike Carter is a freelance writer and contributor for the Buffalo Sabres with The Hockey Writers and NHLTradeRumors.Me He is @mikecarterlives on Twitter. Mike has been writing professionally since 2012, with stints as a reporter in northern British Columbia and Edmonton, Alberta. He now calls Salmon Arm, B.C. home.