The pros and cons of a potential Flames deal for Jack Eichel
A month ago, a Calgary Flames acquisition of Jack Eichel would have smacked of desperation from a GM clinging to his job and an organization trying hard to shake up its core.
However, nine games into one of the best starts in franchise history, it would look considerably different.
By any metric, the Flames have been an impressive bunch, consistently outshooting, out-chancing, out-scoring and out-working their opposition en route to an eight-game point streak that has them tied for tops in the Pacific division.
So why meddle now?
Well, for starters, suddenly it’s a lot easier to buy into the belief that this club is a top centre away from being a contender.
Coach Darryl Sutter, who covets middlemen above all else, would salivate over the prospect of having Eichel and Elias Lindholm anchoring a top six that would suddenly be one of the loop’s most formidable groups.
It would be Calgary’s answer to Connor McDavid/Leon Draisaitl.
But at what cost?
That’s obviously what this has always boiled down to.
Word from ESPN’s Emily Kaplan on Tuesday that the Flames and Vegas Golden Knights appear to be the last two standing in a deal she reports as being imminent has both cities in a tizzy.
Here’s the latest on Jack Eichel.
Multiple sources tell ESPN it’s down to Calgary and Vegas. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams is working hard to get it done, but neither team has met his asks yet.
Sources say both teams are OK with Eichel getting his preferred surgery. pic.twitter.com/uiJsGFeDmE
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) November 3, 2021
She says both clubs are OK with the synthetic disc replacement surgery Eichel desires for his injured neck (which has been at the centre of his dispute with the Buffalo Sabres), meaning the earliest he’d be able to return to play would be after the Olympic break.
It’s quite a sacrifice for a team to make, especially if the deal involves sending a core rostered player to Buffalo.
Would Calgary dare include fan favourite Andrew Mangiapane in a deal?
Is it a given that a young player with big upside like Juuso Valimaki or Dillon Dube would be included in a potential swap?
Does it make sense to disrupt the chemistry in a room of lads who have bought into Sutter’s recipe for success?
Most importantly, how can the Flames palatably find the $9 million in salary they’d need to shed to clear room for Eichel before putting him on LTIR?
Would a $6.375-million Sean Monahan really satisfy the bulk of that? (If so, this deal would likely be done already).
Flames GM Brad Treliving, whose job is now more than secure given their start, downplayed the report, saying it’s business as usual at the Dome. Sutter claimed he’s never heard the rumours linking Eichel to Calgary, adding, “I think it’s a bit of a media thing.”
Either way, the list of pros and cons is endless.
Eichel, when healthy, is a top-10 centre in the league — a commodity that’s very hard to acquire any way other than through the draft.
With apologies to Sean Monahan, Craig Conroy and even Lindholm, who has been superb in his limited time up the middle, he would arguably be the first proven, No. 1 centre in Calgary since Joe Nieuwendyk.
Sutter believes in building up the middle, and Eichel would give him endless options within a top six that would end any concerns about this team having trouble scoring goals.
He’s not healthy.
Even if surgery could be scheduled for later this week, he’d still be off skates for six weeks, with little chance of returning to play for the following three months, minimum.
This is a unique chance to acquire an otherwise unattainable asset.
The ask from Buffalo has long revolved around prospects, which are something the Flames may decide they’re willing to cough up with an eye on challenging now.
What if the surgery doesn’t work?
What if Eichel doesn’t respond well to this new approach to a neck injury, which no NHLer has ever tried.
While Eichel has five years and $50 million left on his deal, the Flames would be making this move with an eye on contending this year, while Johnny Gaudreau is still here.
An American player who has a relationship with both Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, perhaps Eichel’s arrival would make it easier to sell his fellow southerners on extending their time in Calgary.
What winger wouldn’t want to stay on a team that has a one-two punch of Eichel/Lindholm up the middle?
Adding a $10-million player for the next five years would make it awfully tough to pay the likes of Gaudreau this summer, and/or Tkachuk and Mangiapane next summer.
Tkachuk will almost certainly sign a one-year, $9-million qualifying offer this summer, and Gaudreau will want similar compensation on a long-term pact.
Oh, and if you think the surging Mangiapane will receive anything less than a $3-million raise on his $2.425-million salary through arbitration you haven’t been watching him dominate of late.
The excitement of Eichel’s addition, and the message that sends, may be a real boost to ticket sales for a team that played in front of 5,000 empty seats Tuesday and 4,000 empty buckets each of its previous two home games.
Again, the cost.
As in, the haul Calgary has to send to Buffalo.
What that looks like is obviously what would determine whether any of this makes sense for a team that has long been considered short on top prospects.
Jakob Pelletier (26th overall in 2019) is off to a solid start as a pro with AHL Stockton, and could easily be included in a deal, as might injured centre Connor Zary (picked 24th overall in 2020).
Chronic goal scorer Matthew Coronato (13th overall in 2021) had his stock rise even more on the weekend when he roofed a shortie on his first shift at Harvard before finishing the game with another goal and two helpers.
Could two of those three be in play?
The Flames have just over $1 million in cap space, so will have to send roughly $9 million in salary back.
So, who might a Dube ($2.3 million) or a Valimaki ($1.55 million) be paired with to make the deal possible?
While prolific most of his career, Monahan’s stock is down considerably following hip surgery that now has him playing in the bottom six.
Mikael Backlund ($5.35 million) is an important part of Sutter’s big shutdown trio, but at age 32 couldn’t possibly be part of what the Sabres are looking for.
Lindholm is essentially untouchable and it’s highly unlikely the Sabres would be eyeing Tkachuk, who has the ability to walk into unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2023.
Defensively, the Flames have three anchors they’d be foolish to part with in Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Chris Tanev.
Any deal would undoubtedly include a future first-round pick, which the Flames have for the next three years.
As Kaplan said, neither team in the running has met Buffalo’s asking price.
It’s still so hard to fathom how the Flames might be able to do so, given the balancing act that requires significant salary going out while trying not to disrupt the core pieces of a red-hot team.
Would Pelletier, Coronato, Monahan and Dube get it done?
Flames fans have spent months toying with possible lures.
While quiet the last year, Treliving’s reputation as someone willing to take big chances is what makes all of this a possibility.
Ditto for Vegas owner Bill Foley.
The upside could be massive.
But at what cost?
After all, that’s how a possible deal would ultimately be judged.
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