This past season, the Buffalo Sabres finished with the worst record in the NHL, missing the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season. That has led to mass speculation (which does hold some merit) that not only does team captain Jack Eichel want out of Buffalo, but that general manager Kevyn Adams might be willing to trade him.
Obviously, trading your team’s best player rarely works out well. But if Eichel really is adamant on wanting out, that could lead to a rather large distraction within the locker room and the organization at large, similar to when Ryan O’Reilly wanted out a few years ago. Factor in that this next season is the last year of Eichel’s contract before his no-move clause kicks in, and it’s easy to see why Buffalo might decide to part ways.
Naturally, that’s led to fans of every other team in the NHL day-dreaming scenarios in which their team could trade for Jack Eichel. Given Sabres fans’ hatred for the Dallas Stars due to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, it’s hard to imagine Buffalo trading their franchise player to the Stars. Then again, Dallas is out of conference (and the hockey gods seem to love inflicting misery on Sabres fans), so why not?
So today, let’s put our thinking caps on and come up with a theoretical trade that would put Eichel in Victory Green. But before we begin, there’s a few “ground rules” we need to establish.
First and foremost, Jack Eichel would be the best forward on the Dallas Stars. Period. I could take the time to break down his ridiculous possession stats or pull up some film, but quite frankly that would be a needless waste of time. He’s an elite player with the misfortune of playing on a horrific hockey team. Also, if he does want to be traded, that’s not ground for character concerns — the media lambasted the aforementioned O’Reilly for wanting out of Buffalo, and he immediately turned around to win the Conn Smythe and become captain for the St. Louis Blues.
Secondly, given his elite talent and ceiling, the only “fair” trade the Stars could offer to Buffalo (meaning one that is “equal” on both sides) would be Miro Heiskanen for Jack Eichel, straight up. But that’s not going to happen for many reasons — first of all, Heiskanen is younger, will (in theory) be under contract for longer, and, quite frankly, is irreplaceable. He’s the future of the franchise, and thus any deal involving him short of Connor McDavid is a no-go.
But more important is that when it comes to trading away star players, the trading team never gets a “fair” deal. Take for instance Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, or the Erik Karlsson trade. Heck, the Tyler Seguin trade that brought him to Dallas qualifies as well. More recently, Patrik Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois might appear to have been a “fair” trade, but that was really a case of both teams trading one unhappy forward who probably wouldn’t re-sign for another. Hardly solved any problems, now did it?
Furthermore, while Kevyn Adams will succeed in creating a bidding war, feeling “forced” to deal Eichel to begin with puts him in a position of weakness. Rather than trading Eichel for an equivalent player, he will most likely have to settle for the largest package deal offered, even if that means “losing” the trade, similar to the Ottawa Senators and Karlsson.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s break down what said package from the Stars might look like. For starters, every offer Dallas puts forth has to start with Roope Hintz. Buffalo will want to fill the void left by Eichel, and Hintz fits the bill — he’s a young, star center coming off a phenomenal season, and he’ll still be an RFA after his current contract expires in two years. Losing Hintz might be hard to stomach for Stars fans, but remember — Eichel would be the best player on the Stars, and thus an upgrade. This is the rough equivalent of losing Loui Eriksson to land Tyler Seguin.
Second, Dallas would need to add another major player, for two reasons — one, to make it worth Buffalo’s while, and two, to ensure that they can absorb Eichel’s $10M cap hit. Now then, this should go without saying, but anyone with a NMC (Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, and Ben Bishop) or a NTC (Joe Pavelski) is out of the question. Dallas (when healthy) is a potential Stanley Cup contender, while Buffalo is a terrible team stuck in a constant state of rebuilding. Would you waive your NMC or NTC to go there? Yeah, didn’t think so.
For the same reasons, we can go ahead and exclude John Klingberg from the list of candidates as well. Yes, Klingberg lacks any trade protection. Yes, he’ll be a UFA after this next season. And yes, it’s quite possible Dallas doesn’t re-sign him and ends up losing him “for nothing”*. But the Sabres are looking for pieces to become part of their future core, and there’s no chance Klingberg would re-sign in Buffalo. Unless they wanted to acquire him with the explicit purpose of flipping him for other pieces in the offseason or at the deadline (very risky and thus highly unlikely), Klingberg is simply not an attractive option for Buffalo.
*This sort of sentiment implies no value in having Klingberg for a Stanley Cup Playoffs run. It’s only truly “for nothing” if the Stars miss the playoffs, in which case they probably would have traded him at the deadline anyways.
So instead, let’s have Dallas offer up the other half of that defensive pair: Esa Lindell. Not only is Esa Lindell the Stars’ highest, non-protected cap hit at $5.8M, but he’s under contract for four additional seasons. Not to mention his “shutdown” defensive style makes him appealing to coaches and general managers alike, making him an attractive piece to add. This would require a deal getting done before the new league year (at which point he does have a NMC that kicks in), but it’s likely that Eichel gets traded before the Entry Draft, let alone Free Agency.
The biggest issue the Sabres might have with Lindell is that he’s a left handed shot, the same as 2018 1st overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin and presumed 2021 1st overall draft pick Owen Power. But then again, Dahlin could play on his off-side, just as Miro Heiskanen has here in Dallas. Plus, pairing an offensively-gifted defenseman like Dahlin with Lindell might be appealing to the Sabres, after seeing the latter’s success when paired with John Klingberg. So while his handiness may not be ideal, it certainly shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
And since we’ve been referencing the upcoming 2021 NHL Entry Draft, we might as well point out that Dallas will almost surely have to throw in their 14th overall pick as well. Given that Dallas is firmly in “Cup or Bust” mode and how scouting and projecting players from this year’s draft class has proven rather difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d argue Jim Nill would be fine with trading away the pick, even if he’s never traded one away before*.
*The closest he’s gotten was the conditional first in the Mats Zuccarello trade, but that condition went unfulfilled.
So that leaves us with Hintz, Lindell, and a 1st for Jack Eichel. That’s a strong package, but given the aforementioned bidding war that Adams will have drummed up, I’m not sure it’s a winning hand. Ultimately, the Stars might have to complete the traditional “player, prospect, and a pick” package (albeit with an extra player) by adding in one of their current prospects. That would likely be Mavrik Bourque, as Thomas Harley would need to fill the gap left by Lindell and Ty Dellandrea would have to do the same for forwards leaving in free agency and/or via expansion draft (not to mention adding Eichel’s cap hit means needing more ELC’s contributing at a high level).
All together, that leaves us with the following proposal:
Dallas Stars Receive:
- Jack Eichel, C
Buffalo Sabres Receive:
- Roope Hintz, C
- Esa Lindell, LHD
- Mavrik Bourque, C
- 2021 14th Overall Pick
Pricey, yes, but necessary to land a player of Eichel’s caliber. Dallas essentially upgrades from Hintz to Eichel at the cost of Lindell and future assets, the latter of which isn’t too important with a “Cup or Bust” mentality. The Stars would likely try and insert Eichel into Hintz’s spot on the “super line” with Joe Pavelski and Jason Robertson, while the old “super line” of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov would slot in as the second line.
Meanwhile, Miro Heiskanen would move up with John Klingberg to form a “super pair,” leaving a re-signed Jamie Olekisak to help along rookie Thomas Harley for the second defensive pairing. Throw in Jake Oettinger and (hopefully) a healthy(-ish) Ben Bishop, and that’s not a bad look for an aspiring Stanley Cup Contender.
So, what do you think? Too much? Too little? Don’t want Jack Eichel to begin with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, ideally before the Sabres trade Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights for a bag of bedazzled hockey pucks and render this whole discussion pointless.