We’ve known for a long time that Jack Eichel was on his way out of Buffalo, and as of Thursday morning, it’s finally happened.
Eichel is off to Vegas, less than a day after Deadspin’s Sam Fels analyzed the risk and reward for the Golden Knights trying to swing a deal for the 25-year-old former No. 2 overall draft pick. As it turns out, upstate New Yorker Alex Tuch is indeed part of the return for the Sabres, along with 2019 first-round pick Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick next year and a third-rounder in 2023.
Tuch, like Eichel, is on the shelf right now, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. That’s no small thing, but he’s signed through 2026 and having grown up outside Syracuse, may actually be happy to play for the Sabres — also no small thing.
Krebs, 20, has gone scoreless in nine NHL games this season but posted five assists in two AHL games, following up a 2020-21 season in which he scored 13 goals with 30 assists in 24 games for the Winnipeg Ice in the WHL. The Hockey Writers ranked Krebs as the game’s No. 17 prospect before this season, ahead of everyone in the Buffalo system except Owen Power (No. 10).
The Sabres also now have three first-round picks in next June’s draft: their own, which will be extremely high, plus the far later selections of the Golden Knights and the Panthers (both are top-10 protected). Presumably, the Vegas and Florida picks could be packaged to move up in the first round for another impact prospect.
And that’s where the problem is for the Sabres, presuming organizational competence.
The problem here isn’t the trade that Kevyn Adams made with Vegas, which could have been better if Buffalo had been willing to retain salary on Eichel, but that wasn’t happening, which you can put on ownership. It’s stupid, because Buffalo has plenty of cap space, but stupid is also how the Sabres got here in the first place, and that’s a big part of why the return is so underwhelming as to make other fan bases wonder, why didn’t we do that?
The Sabres denied Eichel permission to get disc replacement surgery for his neck injury, insisting instead that he get a fusion procedure whose long-term effects made him wary. The right move would have been to let Eichel get the surgery that he and his doctors felt was right for him. This isn’t some “do my own research” vaccine nonsense, it’s legitimate pros and cons of types of surgeries, and a decision made after consultation with actual experts. Had that been the path taken by Buffalo, they’d still have their franchise player and wouldn’t be getting raked now.
The pennies on the dollar return was inevitable. That’s what happens in just about any trade with a star, going back to Wayne Gretzky and beyond. Adams being hamstrung further by Terry Pegula’s recalcitrance on salary retention only made it worse. The answer, then, is, get this, not putting yourself in a position where trading your best player is the only real option.
The Sabres mismanaged Eichel’s health, and in doing so, lit their relationship with him on fire. They need to be ripped, but not for the ultimate result of the trade, which, considering how they wound up coming to it, isn’t nearly the disaster that it could have been. Tuch is a solid player on a reasonable long-term contract. Krebs has potential. The picks fit with Buffalo’s latest rebuilding effort.
That’s “effort,” not “plan,” because to say that Buffalo has a rebuilding plan would be to give this organization far too much credit. The Sabres wasted Eichel’s early years, took an indefensible stand against him getting the treatment that’s right for him, and showed everyone in hockey that they’re not a franchise to be taken seriously, a far cry from when Pegula showed up promising to chase the Stanley Cup.
The fracking magnate once said money would be no issue in running the Sabres, that “if I want to make money, I’ll drill another well.” It turns out that when it comes to running a hockey team, he doesn’t know his ass from one of those holes in the ground.