This past weekend, reports have come out stating the Los Angeles Kings are planning to make a blockbuster trade for Buffalo Sabres’ all-star center, Jack Eichel. He has been disgruntled with the Sabres organization since the midway point of this season. After five frustrating years with zero postseason games under his belt and contributing top level hockey, he of course wants the team in a “win now mode.” Unfortunately for Eichel, that will not happen anytime soon due to the lack of depth and injury prone goaltending. Eichel drafted second overall in 2015 behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers, the Sabres were projected to break out in 2016 and become a dark horse playoff contender. The Sabres haven’t made the postseason since 2011, the team fell shy this season by just three points. Those darn Canadiens! A few weeks ago, the Sabres fired the majority of their front office including GM, Jason Botterill but the damage has been done, despite not saying this out loud, it seems clear Eichel wants out of Buffalo.
It seems clear that Jack Eichel could produce on any NHL team, 30 franchises licking their chops at the 3 time All-Star but would any team match the hefty price tag to acquire him? The Kings are planning to request a trade offer this offseason which is intriguing as they are still in a rebuilding stage. Right now, the Kings have a $6 million salary cap, a bit too little for Eichel’s modest salary of $10 million, but something to consider before his contract expires after the 2025-26 season. The organization is in a comfortable spot with a combination of enough young and experienced talent that could lead them back to their glory years back in the early 2010’s. This season Eichel has notched 78 points in 68 games with 36 goals and 42 assists, the Kings first line center, Anze Kopitar has managed 62 points in 70 games with 21 goals and 41 assists, both productive players however, Kopitar is projected to hit his decline stage around 2022 leaving the Kings to fill an empty hole on the first line. With the Kings’ captain at 32 years old and Eichel with the advantage at 23 years young, the organization will do what’s best for the team which should be switching Kopitar to the second line, the key question is, would Kopitar demote himself to do what's best for the team? Eichel would be a natural fit to the Kings first line with the skilled Adrian Kempe and the seasoned Dustin Brown who could have a resurgence with the addition of Eichel in the lineup. There is also a possibility that if Brown joins Kopitar on the second line it might open the door to pick Tim Stutzle or Quinton Byfield with the number 2 pick in the 2020 draft. Both prospects are NHL bound their rookie year, having Eichel by their side would just quicken their development.
Teams interested in Eichel are very much aware of his no movement clause that kicks in before the 2022-23 season. A recent article proposed a mock trade dealing Eichel to the Kings for Gabriel Vilardi, Akil Thomas and Rasmus Kupari along with multiple top draft picks for the next two years. On paper, the trade looks even, the Kings get their go to guy and for the Sabres a more young talented team for the future however, I don’t believe this move would clear up the Kings’ salary cap as the three players are still under rookie contracts. Already at the brink of their salary cap, the Kings simply couldn’t pay other players to build a team around Eichel, would this be a wise move or is there too much risk involved? My mock trade would be the Kings trade centers, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis along with their 2021 1st and 2nd round picks straight up for Eichel. Buffalo would get veteran leadership on top of solid statistics, Jeff Carter, turning 36, could become an assist machine playing on the same line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson, then place Trevor Lewis to the third line, a smart, easy on the wallet forward who will bring physical presence to the bottom six. Not to mention, the Sabres would get more depth with their two 1st and 2nd round picks which will strengthen their fatigued defensive unit. If this transaction was to take place, will Eichel remain with the losing Sabres who has not successfully built a contending team around him or jump ship to another losing team who potentially can make the playoffs a reality. If the Kings scraped up a 6-8 year contract to build a strong forward core just like they did with Kopitar in his prime, Eichel might have the urge to give the Kings’ organization a strong chance to bring “The Cup” back to Los Angeles as they have done before.