It finally happened. The Buffalo Sabres have finally pulled the trigger and traded former captain and 2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel, after a months-long process that got worse before it got better, and saw a rift between the player and the organization expand each day it dragged on. The winner of the “Eichel sweepstakes,” as it had come to be known, are the Vegas Golden Knights, the perennial Stanley Cup favorites who have gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start to the 2021-22 NHL season.
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Since the start of this season, the Eichel trade talks were said to have slowed to a halt, then sped up to the “one-yard line,” then slowed down again, then sped up. As of this week, NHL insiders were saying that it was down to two final teams contending to land Eichel: the Golden Knights and the Calgary Flames. Despite what the Flames were rumored to be offering, Eichel will be boarding a plane to Las Vegas instead.
Eichel Sent to Golden Knights for Krebs, Tuch & More
In an overnight trade, Sabres general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams completed his first blockbuster trade since taking over the team in 2019, and shipped Eichel to the Golden Knights for a loaded return.
Vegas Golden Knights receive:
- C Jack Eichel
- 2023 third-round pick
Buffalo Sabres receive:
- C Peyton Krebs
- RW Alex Tuch
- 2022 first-round pick
- 2023 third-round pick
Let’s break this down.
The team getting the best player here is the Golden Knights – don’t be mistaken. I’ve expressed my opinion that Eichel is one of the best centers in the NHL when he’s healthy and playing at the top of his game, and would still place him in the top-10 despite having sat out of game action since mid-March. With a healthy Eichel on their roster, the Golden Knights will not only have a new line mate for the Mark Stones and Max Paciorettys of the team, but will have something they truly haven’t had since joining the league in 2017-18: a true, bonafide first-line center.
How about the return for the Sabres? Adams was rumored to have set the expectation with the Golden Knights that any potential trade must start with Peyton Krebs, and ultimately, he got what he wished for. Krebs is the shining prize in the return, the former first-round pick from the 2019 draft having been the top prospect for the Golden Knights for the past two seasons. He has just one assist in 13 NHL games, but the 20-year-old center has tons of undiscovered potential and will have the chance to learn and grow with the rest of the Sabres’ young core.
Alex Tuch is a well-established, big-body winger with four full seasons of NHL experience and a career-high points threshold of 52. A native of Syracuse, NY, Tuch is familiar with the Western New York area, and will be welcomed with open arms by the Sabres fanbase, and will have the opportunity to slot in on the top line alongside either Casey Mittelstadt or Dylan Cozens. He will be a fine addition to the young core, and his veteran leadership will go a long way.
The Golden Knights are poised to finish near the top of the NHL standings already, and adding Eichel into the mix won’t hurt those chances one bit. So, while they’ll likely be late-round picks, the first-round and third-round picks over the next two drafts that the Sabres also got in return for Eichel aren’t nothing – they are padding their draft capital for the foreseeable future, and that only gives them more of a chance to draft future stars.
Golden Knights Expected to Allow Eichel His Surgery
One of the major reasons Eichel and the Sabres experienced an irreversible “disconnect” was the fact that the Sabres medical staff would not allow Eichel to have the particular surgery that he wanted: disc replacement surgery. The Sabres were recommending a fusion surgery, and stuck to their guns on that. Eichel, on the other hand, wanted what he wanted, and although it has never been performed on an NHL player before, the Golden Knights appear to be ready and willing to let him get it as soon as possible.
Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, who broke the Eichel trade news this morning, Eichel is expected to have his disk replacement surgery very soon, and although recovery times vary, everyone is hopeful that he will be back on the ice in four months – slating his Golden Knights debut for mid-March, a full calendar year since he last suited up for an NHL regular season game. The hockey world will be watching on the edge of their seats to see how his surgery turns out and what kind of player he is when he does hit the ice again, but we’ll be waiting a long time to see it.
What’s Next for the Sabres?
Since the 2021 NHL trade deadline, Adams has effectively traded away and let go of every piece of the old core in exchange for one that he thinks will help this franchise return to relevance. In his sophomore season as GM of the Sabres, Adams has made this team into one that has his fingerprints all over it – now every success is his, and every failure he must own. So what’s next for Adams and the Sabres?
The Sabres are 5-3-1 to start the season, blowing past all expectations set for them approaching the ten-game mark. New head coach Don Granato appears to have instilled a new culture among the young players, encouraging them to play a system that works to all of their advantage. For a change, the Sabres and their fans finally appear to be having fun again, and shutting the door on the Eichel trade saga is the final goodbye to the past. It’s time to move on and heal, and get excited for what this latest rebuild can hold for the future.
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Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15