Trade Grades: Golden Knights Come Out on Top of Eichel Blockbuster

It finally happened. The Jack Eichel trade saga came to an end last night after months of speculation and controversy. The injury-stricken Vegas Golden Knights get their man, a star No. 1 center that they’ve lacked since their inception – who also happens to be injured. The Buffalo Sabres finally unload their disgruntled former captain, whose surgery demands and dissatisfaction with losing caused an unmendable rift between him and the organization. The full trade is as follows:

  • Vegas Golden Knights receive: Center Jack Eichel, 2023 third-round pick
  • Buffalo Sabres receive: Center Peyton Krebs, right wing Alex Tuch, conditional 2022 first-round pick, and conditional 2023 second-round pick

Without further ado, here are the grades:

Vegas Golden Knights

It seems the Golden Knights are always involved whenever a high-profile player is on the move. In just over four years, Vegas’s fearless executive team of general manager Kelly McCrimmon and former GM George McPhee has pulled off blockbusters for forwards Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, and now Eichel. It is safe to say that the latter player’s potential contributions in Vegas are the most tantalizing.

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

Since being drafted second overall in 2015, just after Connor McDavid, Eichel has been among the league’s best centers. He is a perennial point-per-game player, a dangerous offensive threat with quick feet and a laser of a shot. He has never elevated to the level of his Edmonton counterpart, but the perpetually hopeless Sabres have played some role in that. Now with a contender in Vegas, Eichel could blossom into one of the league’s very best players. Some would argue that he already has, but his on-ice results have never quite lived up to that billing.

There are two concerns in this deal for the Golden Knights. The first is Eichel’s neck injury. Since being ruled out for the 2020-21 season in March with a herniated disk, Eichel has been embroiled in a battle with Sabres management, demanding a risky surgery that he had yet to be granted. However, Emily Kaplan’s report on Tuesday suggests that Eichel will now be able to get the artificial disk replacement that he so desires.

The surgery does hold risk for Eichel and Vegas. If he fails to recover as expected, then the Knights will have given up a large haul for potentially nothing. All involved will just have to hope for the best with this treatment and for Eichel to return as soon as possible. As of right now, he is likely ruled out until after the Olympic break.

Related: Sabres Send Eichel to Golden Knights in Blockbuster Trade

The second area of risk is Vegas’s salary cap situation. With all the high-profile players that Vegas has collected, their payroll has grown to be one of the most expensive in the league. Along with Pacioretty and Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, William Karlsson, and others have hefty cap hits. The Golden Knights have plenty of cap relief for now, with a plethora of injured players on long-term injured reserve. However, once those players are ready to return, Vegas will have to shed a decent chunk of cap space.

I’m giving Vegas a high grade, as they did acquire a bonafide star at a discount, but I’m doing so with the caveat that it could change depending on how Eichel looks upon returning and how the team handles shedding salary.

FInal Grade: A-

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres, who have gotten off to a surprisingly good start, have now dealt yet another unhappy star. The perennial losing of the past decade has made Buffalo an unpleasant place to play, and the consequences have grown very apparent. Eichel’s departure follows those of Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart this past summer.

Eichel’s very public trade request put Sabres GM Kevyn Adams in a very difficult position. He had little-to-no leverage in trade discussions for his team’s best player. Eichel’s injury, looming surgery, and stripping of the captaincy only made matters worse. With all that taken into account, the return that Adams got is not that bad.

Vegas Golden Knights Alex Tuch
Former Vegas Golden Knight Alex Tuch (AP Photo/John Locher)

Right wing Alex Tuch was drafted 18th overall in 2014 by the Minnesota Wild and was acquired by Vegas during the 2017 expansion draft. He has since blossomed into a quality top-six forward and will likely slot there with Buffalo once he returns from injury. Per Darren Dreger, the 25-year-old is about a month or so away from returning.

The second big piece of the deal, Peyton Krebs, was drafted 17th overall in 2019 by the Golden Knights. He was a prolific scorer in juniors, but has struggled so far at the NHL level. He remains an excellent prospect at only 20 years old and will likely grow into a quality top-six center, especially with the greater opportunity that playing in Buffalo will afford him.

The first-round pick that the Sabres acquired is top-10 protected, but Vegas was very unlikely to end up with a top 10 pick anyway. If all goes as planned for the Golden Knights, the pick that they send to Buffalo will be late in the first round. The Sabres got a reasonable return in this deal, considering how long the process dragged out, but they still lost their top player and face of the franchise for an incommensurate return. The pieces received are high-end, but it is very unlikely that any one of them ends up as good as Eichel is and will be.

Final Grade: B

The Golden Knights stand as the winners of this deal at the moment, but that could change. How Buffalo’s acquisitions develop and how Eichel looks after surgery are major factors that could shift the complexion of the trade. Regardless, it is evident that everyone involved is grateful that the Eichel saga has finally come to an end. Now, we can simply watch as one of the league’s most promising players attempts a challenging comeback on a contending team that he has so desperately wanted to be a part of.

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