The Jack Eichel Saga Finally Concludes

Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres have finally parted ways after months of debate and controversy, as Eichel heads to a Vegas team continuing to make every trade they can in an ongoing pursuit to lift the Stanley Cup at any cost.


Eichel’s up-and-down tenure in Buffalo reached a bitter end. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Jack Eichel has lived in Connor McDavid’s shadow for his entire NHL career. In many ways, he always will. Similar to Hughes and Kakko or Manning and Rivers, the two will always be tied at the hip for headlining the greatest draft in recent history. Unfortunately for Eichel, he has played second fiddle since day one. The disappointment of losing that 2015 draft lottery was palpable in Buffalo despite getting a guy who goes number one in any other year. The Sabres have yet to make the playoffs in his career despite a few fantastic seasons with him donning the captain’s ‘C’. 

Then last year things changed. He suffered a neck injury 21 games into his worst season. He finished the season with two goals and 16 assists on a historically bad Sabres team that clearly was entering a rebuild. He wanted to get a disk replacement surgery, an operation that has not been performed on an NHL player, but the Buffalo doctors cautioned against that. The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that the team doctors get the final say, and a player cannot undergo an operation without team consent. Eichel refused to get the fusion surgery, Buffalo refused to approve the disk replacement and a staring contest began.

After many months of surgery talk, mock trades, reports about a deal getting closer and his captaincy getting stripped, a deal was finally completed. The Vegas Golden Knights won the sweepstakes over the Calgary Flames early Thursday morning. The Ducks, Kings, Wild, Hurricanes, Bruins and Rangers were all in on the conversations at some point, but Vegas continues their mission to make every big trade and sign every big free agent possible. Vegas has sent away all three first-round selections from 2017 (Suzuki to Montreal, Glass to Nashville, Brannstrom to Ottawa), their first-round pick in 2018 to Detroit for Tomas Tatar, with Peyton Krebs, 17th overall in ’19, and the ’22 selection out the door in this deal. Their 2020 first-rounder is Brendan Brisson, son of Eichel’s agent Pat, and 2021’s pick is Zachary Dean. Both remain with the organization…for now.

The package was pretty simple and less than what Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams originally asked for. 25-year-old forward Alex Tuch, 20-year-old prospect Krebs, Vegas’ 2022 first round selection and their 2023 second round pick are headed north to Buffalo in the return. Adams originally asked for the equivalent of four first rounders, whether that be former first-round picks or young prospects with future picks added on. Vegas only sent three and got a third rounder in return as well. They were in on the conversation ever since they cleared seven million in cap space by shipping Marc-Andre Fleury out of town just before free agency. 

Despite that recent departure, Vegas is still pressed up against the cap ceiling. They have 11 players making five million or more this season. Those 11 players take up $71.65 million of the $81.5 million salary cap, or 87.9% of the budget.  That is just for this season, one where Eichel might not play while he recovers. Reilly Smith is one of those players making five million and the only one in a contract year. It certainly seems like he will head somewhere else as Vegas will barely be able to afford the players already under contract for next season.

Last year, Vegas played multiple games with fewer than the 22 allotted players due to injuries and a lack of cap space to make the necessary moves. Alex Pietrangelo was the culprit of that issue when he was signed to an $8.8 million contract after the bubble. The Knights could not exactly afford that contract, but they made it work. If this was any other team, I would be weary of cap circumvention penalties and such, but Vegas has proved that they know how to tiptoe the line better than anyone. 

Vegas will be the favorites in the West next season. Their new first line of Stone-Eichel-Pacioretty ranks among the best in the league, and they have proven that they play great defense since their first year as a team. This year will be about getting everyone healthy but next year is about lifting the cup in the desert.