Following a tumultuous offseason in Buffalo, superstar center Jack Eichel was available to the highest bidder on the trade block.
Arguably a top-five player in the league when he’s healthy, Eichel had demanded a trade out of Buffalo after he and Sabres management disagreed on what type of surgery was needed to heal or replace a disc in Eichel’s neck.
Finally, after months of speculation, Eichel was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights last week in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a first-round draft pick and a second-round draft pick. The Golden Knights received a third-round pick to balance things out.
Could the Flyers have offered a better package?
Would the Flyers offer a better package?
Elite players like Eichel just don’t become available on the open trade market very often. Taken second overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Eichel likely would have been the top choice in almost any other draft over the last decade but had the unfortunate situation of being the same age as Connor McDavid. He’s been roughly a point-per-game player, despite playing on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade.
Teams would kill for a No. 1 franchise center of Eichel’s caliber. Unfortunately for the Flyers, there were several reasons they couldn’t seize the opportunity.
First, the Flyers might not have had the type of prospects available to entice the Sabres into a trade. Although Krebs might have been Buffalo’s second choice behind big defenseman Nicolas Hague, who was deemed a non-starter for trade talks, Krebs has had more league-wide envy than anyone in the Flyers’s system, which includes Cam York, Wade Allison and Morgan Frost as arguably the best of the bunch. Krebs is still developing in the American Hockey League, but is a potential offensive catalyst with a high ceiling as a top-line point producer.
Secondly, Vegas was willing to part with Tuch because he’s unavailable to play until early 2022 while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so the Golden Knights really weren’t losing much from their roster as they fight for a playoff spot, as Eichel is due to need months of rehabilitation before returning to the ice.
The Flyers probably couldn’t afford to ship away a desirable top-six forward and stay afloat in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division while waiting for Eichel to heal.
Then you arrive at the fact that the Flyers are simply log jammed at the center position with bodies and salary for the foreseeable future.
Sean Couturier signed an eight year extension that carries a $7.75 million annual hit against the salary cap and his no-movement clause kicks in next year. Kevin Hayes also has a no-movement clause until 2026 and makes north of $7 million a year. Fitting Eichel’s $10 million salary would cost the Flyers almost $25 million just for their top three centers, which would account for more than 30 percent of their entire cap.
Currently the Flyers have about $14 million of cap space next year with 10 spots to fill, including Claude Giroux’s.
Once you get past all the numbers, you still have to consider Eichel’s health moving forward. The surgery he wanted was deemed too risky for the Sabres to allow their franchise guy to undergo. Vegas (ignore the incoming pun) was willing to gamble. Even if the surgery is successful, how will Eichel react to missing more than a full calendar year of hockey?
The Golden Knights can take these risky chances and have shown the gusto to go for it with blockbuster moves seemingly every season.
They can always replenish their roster with free agents because Vegas, as a franchise, has a few things going for it that other teams don’t have. It’s a warm, desirable place to live and the state of Nevada has no state income tax, which allows players to collect more of their paychecks. They’ve also never missed the playoffs, which might be considered enticing to veteran players chasing a Stanley Cup.
Any way you add it up, the Flyers never really had a chance at Eichel. Maybe they will the next time a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity rolls their way. ••