Did the Buffalo Sabres mishandle the Jack Eichel trade?

The Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel reached a tipping point when his agents responded to comments from GM Kevyn Adams on July 30.

“What’s critically important to make sure is clear, is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams answered as to why Eichel was still on the team after free agency opened. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure. If there is a deal that helps up we will do it. We don’t feel the need to do something to do something.”

Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli fired back in a lengthy statement that had one main message for the Sabres. “The process is not working.” 

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Did the Sabres overplay their hand in trade talks?

When it comes to what the Sabres are asking for Jack Eichel, the best reporting sums it up as astronomical. Initially, they were looking for something along the lines of four to five specific type pieces. According to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, they had to all be first rounders. That meant in picks and or prospects, but those players had to be thriving.

One team executive I spoke with back in March, scoffed at that. No one was ever going to give them that much. This was also before the seriousness of his neck issues were known.

The Sabres ask has come down as of late, but apparently not by much. It’s still around four pieces, but the demand that they all have to be thriving first rounders is what’s been lowered from what I can gather. It is still very high, and now that free agency has passed, teams have spent their money elsewhere.

The Golden Knights have NO cap space to make a trade unless they send back equal salary. Same for the Wild who on the day of free agency dropped out because what Buffalo wanted was “too high.” The Kings spent money on players like Phillip Danault, and the Ducks who are rebuilding are currently not interested.

There still is one team that has the assets and cap space to get a deal done – the New York Rangers. However, why would GM Chris Drury negotiate against himself if he believes that there really is no other serious contender?

One can only surmise that Adams overplayed his hand here. By not lowering his ask to a more reasonable demand prior to the start of free agency, he lost leverage. That was further compounded by Eichel’s agents who wrote, “we fully anticipated a trade by the start of the NHL free agency period.”

It clearly appears the Sabres may have botched this trade request.

Can the Sabres still get a good return for Jack Eichel?

can the sabres still trade eichel
Mar 7, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) reacts after a goal by the New York Islanders during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The question today is can Sabres GM Kevyn Adams salvage this situation? I believe the answer is yes, but he will have to lower the number of players he’s getting back in return. And if he really wants to send him out West, then Adams has to take back salary to make it work for those teams.

In fairness to the Sabres, they have every right to ask for a king’s ransom for Eichel. He’s a former #2 pick overall in a draft where #1 was Connor McDavid. For his NHL career, he has 355 points in 375 games. More importantly is he’s getting better year after year.

At the age of 22, in his fourth full season, Eichel became an over a point a game player by scoring 82 points in 77 games. In 2019-20, his fifth season, he scored a career high 36 goals in just 68 games. He also registered a total of 78 points before COVID stopped the entire league.

This past season was an aberration as the Sabres finally imploded. Playing hurt, Eichel managed 18 points in 21 games despite an absolute abysmal performance by almost everyone on the team.

While one can look at that info and say, ‘Hey! Why should we accept less?’, the answer is simple. Buffalo is not dealing with a star player that just wants out. They are dealing with an injured player that wants to have a surgery not yet performed on an NHL player too. That doesn’t mean a 24 year-old offensive center should fetch scraps either.

Plus, as each day passes, it is growing increasingly likely he will miss time next season. Depending on the surgery that is ultimately decided on, and the date it is performed, he could miss up to two or three months.

Sabres best bet is to let Eichel get an artificial disc replacement

At this point, if the Sabres refuse to lower their ask they should just let Eichel get the surgery he’s most comfortable with. Right now, after Eichel’s surgeon Dr. Chad Prusmack appeared on the 31 Thoughts Podcast, they look like the villains.

Dr. Prusmack explained that an artificial disc replacement is not only better for Eichel’s long-term health, the recovery time is about 8 weeks. He also noted that the traditional treatment of a fusion for a herniated disc limits movement and has a longer recovery of about 12 weeks. Furthermore, he said that after Eichel’s career, he could require several more fusions to correct his issues.

After hearing that, one can easily see why Eichel wants the disc replacement procedure over a fusion. To be fair to the Sabres, we need to remember that this is Eichel’s doctor talking here.

This interview also came on the heels of Eichel’s agent’s statement which swayed the court of public opinion completely on the player’s side.

“The recommendation by Jack’s independent neurosurgeon, other spine specialists consulted, and the surgery Jack feels most comfortable having in order to correct a herniated disc in his neck is to proceed with Artificial Disc Replacement surgery,” Eichel’s agents revealed. “A further point of concern is that our camp was initially under the impression that the Sabres specialist was in agreement with the Artificial Disc Replacement surgery until it was no longer the case.”

Then the final nail was hammered into the Sabres coffin.

“What is being left out of the discussion is that Jack would be able to play in the NHL for the start of the season pending medical clearance if he were allowed to have the surgery he desires even as of this date,” which is now passed by a week. “Repeated requests have been made to the Sabres since early June to no avail. This process is stopping Jack from playing in the NHL and it is not working.”

The options really seem limited now. If the Sabres allow the surgery today, he could be ready for training camp in 8 weeks. At that point, the comfort level with many teams will rise and maybe more bidders flock to the table ready to pay Adams’ price. Or at least closer to it.