Sabres Running Out of Time to Maximize Return for Jack Eichel

It’s been a busy offseason for Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams so far, and it’s not quite time for him to kick off his shoes and enjoy the summer just yet. Adams still has one major task looming over his head this offseason: finding a suitor who’d trade for Sabres captain Jack Eichel. Trade rumors surrounding Eichel started as early as mid-March of this season, but escalated after the regular season when he highlighted a “disconnect” between himself and team management. It now seems inevitable that he will be a member of a different team come next season, but Adams has to pull the trigger and trade him first. The reported asking price for him is steep, though, as Adams is seeking the equivalent of four first-round picks in a return package.

Adams Isn’t Budging on Asking Price for Eichel

The equivalent of four first-round picks could be anything from young, established roster players, A-level prospects, or actual first-round draft picks in the next two NHL drafts. But there aren’t many teams with the roster pieces and draft capital available to make that kind of offer to the Sabres, even if the player they receive in return is Eichel. Adams seems to be sticking to his guns when it comes to what he wants coming back the other way, but that might be pushing teams out of the trade conversation.

“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” said Adams in a recent presser. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure. If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve — whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things [to] weigh — we’d be open to it.” (From ‘Sabres GM doesn’t ‘feel any pressure’ to trade Jack Eichel despite what appears to be vanishing market’ The Athletic, 7/29/2021)

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

The Minnesota Wild, for example, are reported to have been serious about making an Eichel trade work, to the point where they had written out a trade scenario on a whiteboard in their draft room. Eventually, though, they became fed up when Adams wouldn’t budge on his asking price, not even a little, so they backed down. It’s one thing to try and wait to hear the best offer out there, but now that most teams are done making moves for the summer after being active in free agency, Eichel’s trade value might actually be going down, not up. Nevertheless, Adams has made clear he still believes the Sabres have the leverage in this situation, and rushing Eichel out the door won’t help the team in any way.

“We’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Eichel’s Agents Slam the Sabres

With each passing day, the Sabres’ leverage seems to be shrinking, and Eichel’s trade value seems to be diminishing. And as new details emerge about the strained relationship between Eichel and Sabres management, other teams can sit back and hope that Adams might lower his expectations for a potential return. Among some of these details are the fact that the Sabres have reportedly refused to share Eichel’s medical information with other teams’ front office and doctors, and more recently that his agents have explicitly stated that he should have been traded by now.

In a statement released late at night on day one of free agency last week, Eichel’s agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli said, “As previously stated, we fully anticipated a trade by the start of the NHL free agency period . . . After the agreed upon and prescribed period for conservative rehabilitation lapsed in early June 2021, it was determined by the Sabres medical staff that a surgical process was required.” (From ‘Sabres’ Jack Eichel’s agents on surgery, trade: ‘The process is not working” The Athletic, 7/31/2021)

Fish and Donatelli said that they have made repeated requests to the Sabres on behalf of Eichel to have the surgery he wants, to no avail. According to the recommendation of his independent neurosurgeon, along with other spine specialists, he feels most comfortable having “Artificial Disc Replacement” surgery, a surgery no NHL player has ever received before and one that the Sabres refuse to let him undergo.

This is an extremely difficult, unique situation that any team and player would have disagreements over, let alone a player of Eichel’s caliber, and during a contentious period wherein his GM is trying to make a blockbuster trade work. The uncertainty surrounding his medical situation is undoubtedly turning some teams off from making offers, and if it remains unresolved, it could potentially be brought before the NHL and NHL Players’ Association to be settled.

Terry Pegula Wants Eichel Traded to West Coast

One factor that might be complicating the trade process for Adams is the hands-on style of Sabres ownership, specifically a condition of Terry Pegula’s that Eichel is traded to a Western Conference team. That already limits the potential trade partners to 16, and there might be just two or three that could realistically pull it off. The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello was the first to report on this condition, with Sabres reporter John Vogl confirming it.

Buffalo Sabres Terry and Kim Pegula
Buffalo Sabres and Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

The Pegulas have never shied away from giving their input on hockey-related matters, and even recently, Terry reportedly requested game footage on the top prospects for the 2021 Draft so he could be informed about what the rest of the Sabres’ front office was watching and thinking approaching the draft. When it comes to an Eichel trade, though, I believe that Adams should have full permission to execute the best trade possible, according to him and his hockey associates. And if that’s with an Eastern Conference team, I trust that it was because it was the best offer available, and he shouldn’t refuse it.

Sabres Still Looking for Perfect Return Package

“We’re continuing to have a lot of conversations with teams,” Adams said in his latest media press conference. According to him, there is still a strong trade market for Eichel, and there are still several potential landing spots for the Sabres captain. Adams has said that he has time and that there is no rush to make a trade if he feels the return isn’t right and doesn’t set the Sabres on the right path to rebuilding the right way. The last thing anyone wants to see happen is for the trade window to close and for Eichel to either show his frustrations on the ice in a Sabres sweater next season or be suspended for failing to report to training camp. These potential outcomes create the sense of urgency we’ve all been feeling.

I believe that Adams has the right motives for holding out for a remarkable return for his star player, but I also believe he is running out of time. The perfect package isn’t going to appear out of the blue, and let’s face it: nine times out of 10, the team trading away Eichel is going to lose the trade. The key is making sure that the best pieces available come back to try and ease the pain of that fact. The Sabres look poised to set the NHL record for longest playoff drought next season if they miss for the 11th straight season, but Adams is focused on the future, and the pieces and draft picks he acquired this offseason will determine what direction the Sabres start to move in.