It almost makes too much sense, right?
A Bruins team, looking to replenish its aging — but still effective — crop of star talent down the middle, opens up a new window of Cup contention thanks to a hometown product’s arrival.
Such a narrative played out two summers ago when Ontario native John Tavares opted to sign with the Maple Leafs, a free-agency coup that supposedly was going to jettison a young and talented Toronto squad into the upper tier of Cup contenders.
And now, with the Buffalo Sabres standing as nothing short of a dumpster fire these days, could there ever be a scenario in which star center — and North Chelmsford native Jack Eichel might be on the move?
Even though the 23-year-old franchise cornerstone is signed with Buffalo through the 2025-26 season, it feels as though something has to give within the next year or so between Eichel and the team that drafted him second overall during the 2015 NHL Draft.
Ever since Terry Pegula dropped $175 million to purchase the Sabres back in 2011, Buffalo's fans have been stuck on a seemingly never-ending carousel of misery — with the club shuffling through six head coaches, four general managers and zero playoff appearances since Pegula took the helm.
Whether it be poor drafting (rushing Casey Mittelstadt up to the NHL was an awful decision), poor cap management (forking over $72 million for Jeff Skinner) or horrendous trades (St. Louis appreciates the Ryan O'Reilly deal, by the way...), Buffalo has fumbled multiple attempts at trying to build a competent roster around Eichel, who has tallied 137 goals and 337 total points over 354 games in a Sabres sweater.
After another disappointing campaign in which Buffalo failed to punch a ticket into the 24-team expanded playoff field, a frustrated Eichel made it evidently clear last month that things needed to change in a hurry.
"Listen, I'm fed up with losing and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated," he said. "It's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It's been a tough couple of months, it's been a tough five years with where things have went. I'm a competitor. I want to win every time I go out on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season . . . I'd be lying if I said that I'm not getting frustrated with where things are going."
Still, even with the 2019-20 campaign now in the rearview, the Sabres keep finding themselves in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons, with Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim, announcing this week that the Sabres let go of GM Jason Botterill, assistant GMs Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton and 19 other staff members — a wave of firings that sheared the Sabres' scouting staff down from 21 personnel to just seven.
Given that Eichel still has a ways to go before he enters free agency, it remains to be seen just how strong the trade whispers get this offseason. But, if Buffalo once again comes up short in 2020-21 and Eichel goes a sixth straight season without tasting playoff hockey, could the BU product potentially ask out?
If a player of Eichel's caliber was ever dangled out on the trade market, a feeding frenzy wouldn't be far behind.
Along with Eichel's impressive baseline numbers this past season (36 goals, 78 points, 22:06 ATOI over 68 games), the underlying stats also paint the picture of an all-world talent in transitional play — with only nine other forwards in the NHL holding a higher 5v5 carries/60 than Eichel's 18.35.
Given the tangible talent already present with Eichel — plus scores of untapped potential — don't be surprised if just about every other NHL club inquired if Buffalo ever kicked the tires on a potential trade.
Given Boston's hometown ties and the need to replenish its pipeline of pivots beyond both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — it's only natural to speculate about what kind of offer the Bruins could toss out in an effort to nab their next superstar.
Still, as exciting as such a scenario could be, there are multiple roadblocks standing in the way of such a blockbuster — aside from the massive cost it would take to pry the star pivot out of Western New York.
As we noted above, it would seem unlikely that Eichel would want to ask out of Buffalo this summer — especially with the pressure now on for new GM Kevyn Adams to right the ship in short order. Add in Eichel's support for Sabres bench boss Ralph Krueger, and odds are that Buffalo's top player would want another go-around before really evaluating his options as far as trades go.
From the Bruins' perspective, this upcoming offseason also isn't exactly the best time to pull the trigger on a franchise-altering move, especially with Krejci still under contract for one more season. Granted, Boston likely would have dealt Krejci back in 2018 had the B's managed to woo Tavares into inking a massive contract, but the preference for the Bruins would be to wait until the 2021 offseason — once Krejci hits free agency — to make a play for Eichel, rather than trying to find a suitor for their second-line center at the same time.
As we've mentioned time and time again since the COVID-19 stoppage, we don't have any concrete details about what the NHL's salary cap situation is going to look like going forward. But it's a pretty fair assumption — given the massive losses in revenue over the last few months — that the cap ceiling isn't going to expand in the next year, with a flat cap limit of $81.5 million standing as a realistic scenario.
As such, Boston — even after getting out of the David Backes contract and saving some cash in the Danton Heinen / Nick Ritchie swap — is still likely going to be crunching the numbers this offseason to remain under the limit. However, even without a sizable increase in cap space, Don Sweeney should have plenty of flexibility in 2021 — especially with Krejci's $7.25 million and Tuukka Rask's $7.00 million set to come off the books.
As such, IF Boston managed to pull the trigger on a deal involving Eichel and slot him in Krejci's place starting in the 2021-22 season, Boston might have the fiscal breathing room to accommodate such a blockbuster deal. But, granted, it wouldn't come without a cost. While it remains to be seen what the future holds for Torey Krug beyond this season, it would seem that Boston could be constricted in the coming years if Krug re-ups on a new contract worth over $7 million annually.
Along with potentially letting Krug walk to have the available cap space, Boston also needs to remain cognizant that restricted free agents like Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are due pretty hefty raises in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Again, we won't have a clear picture until the NHL releases the cap limit for the 2020-21 season, but let's be clear — it's not going to be easy for any Cup contender looking to take on Eichel's contract ($10 million annually through '26).
Isn't this what it all comes down to?
After getting absolutely fleeced by St. Louis when they dealt O'Reilly (Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, Vladimír Sobotka, a 2019 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick was the return), methinks Buffalo is going to be more vigilant when it comes to netting a proper return for a star center.
Of course, given Eichel's standing already as a top 15-20 player in the NHL, his age and contract, it's pretty much a given that the Sabres would expect a king's ransom for their franchise star.
Now, if Boston came calling following the 2020-21 season, what would a rebuilding team like Buffalo ask for?
- Draft capital is an obvious casualty of such a blockbuster, with Buffalo seeking a first-round selection in 2021 (and potentially even 2022) in order to replenish its prospect pipeline. (Toronto surrendered a pair of first-round picks to pry a 22-year-old Phil Kessel from Boston in 2009).
- Buffalo would also want a top prospect in any return for its franchise center. As luck would have it, Boston has prioritized pivots over the last couple of drafts — with Jack Studnicka obviously standing at the forefront when it comes to the B's prospect pool. Other promising centers in Boston's system include John Beecher and Trent Frederic.
- One or two NHL regulars — still young and under manageable contracts — seems to be a given here in terms of trade chips. Even though Boston would be wise to not part ways with a youngster like Charlie McAvoy, a player like Jake DeBrusk could be a target, given his age (24 in 2021), evident talent (averaged 23 goals last two seasons) and likely affordable contract after hitting restricted free agency in 2020. If Buffalo REALLY wanted to maximize its return in an Eichel trade, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if the Sabres also snagged a defensemen from Boston — with Brandon Carlo standing as the obvious pick if McAvoy is off limits.
Am I overshooting what the Sabres might ask for here? Ehhhh, I don't think so — not for a young superstar like Eichel.
Again, we've had stars traded for far, far less, but Buffalo NEEDS to nail this trade if it indeed decides to blow it all up and start anew.
So, what say you?
Would you pull the trigger on a move like this?
Boston Gets: Jack Eichel
Buffalo Gets: Brandon Carlo, Jake DeBrusk, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, 2021 1st-Round Pick, 2022 2nd-Round Pick
Again, even if the timing, cap and cost (as steep as it would be) makes sense when it comes to playing matchmaker for a Boston-Buffalo blockbuster here, there's still PLENTY of things working against any scenario in which Eichel is donning a Black and Gold sweater within the next 5-6 years.
Even if Boston puts together an appealing package of prospects and players, the Sabres likely wouldn't be too keen on dealing within the division —especially considering such a reset would lead to a decade of Eichel and Pastrnak routinely lighting up Buffalo.
Also, if Eichel was put out on the market, there are plenty of teams with stronger farm systems that could outbid Boston on prospects alone. Even with Cale Makar being untouchable at this point, the Avalanche could lead any offer with Bowen Byram and BC's Alex Newhook, while a Rangers team in need of another superstar next to Artemi Panarin could offer players and prospects such as Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Adam Fox (a massive trade chip, to say the least), Vitaly Kravtsov and K’Andre Miller.
Also, there stands the extremely realistic possibility that Buffalo just doesn't deal Eichel at all — especially if the franchise shows signs of improvement within the next year or so.
Now, had Eichel been set to hit free agency in another year or two — I think this is a completely different story, with Boston making a ton of sense as a top suitor for the Massachusetts native's services.
Boston could very well be in that running come 2026 when Eichel actually hits the open market. But until then, swinging a trade of this magnitude seems more like a pipe dream than a tangible scenario for the Bruins as they prepare for a future without the likes of Bergeron and Krejci.
Still, one can still dream, right?
11 players test positive for COVID-19
While the NHL is still pushing ahead with its plan of transitioning to Phase 3 (full training camp) on July 10, Friday was a sobering reminder of the challenge that every pro sports league in North America faces when it comes to restarting a season in the midst of a pandemic.
Along with the Tampa Bay Lightning announcing that their practice facility needed to be closed due to an outbreak of COVID-19, the league announced that 11 total players have tested positive for the virus since Phase 2 began less than two weeks ago.
“Since NHL Clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all Players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19,” the NHL said in a statement. Through today, in excess of 200 Players have undergone multiple testing. A total of 11 of these Players have tested positive. All Players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will provide a weekly update on the number of tests administered to Players and the results of those tests. The League will not be providing information on the identity of the Players or their Clubs.”
While league policy is to not reveal which players have tested positive, a report from the Toronto Sun on Friday stated that Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews, who has been skating in Arizona, was one of the positive tests. Toronto did not either confirm or deny the report when it released its own statement later in the evening. With players not yet under strict quarantine restrictions during Phase 2, expect more positive tests on the horizon.
Mics on the ice?
While there’s plenty for the NHL to sort through when it comes to presenting an engaging and immersive product for the millions of viewers set to stream and tune into playoff games set in empty arenas — one feature that’s drawing tons appeal is the implementation of live sound from the ice.
In particular, the possibility of adding microphones near the action, or even on players themselves, could give viewers a rare chance to see what really transpires once the puck drops.
Count John Moore among those interested in giving viewers such exclusive access, even if some salty language manages to slip past the censors.
“(I was) not a big fan before this of the UFC, but I saw the first fight with no fans and you really got an appreciation for — you heard everything and it added an element to watching it and added an element of appreciation to the art of it all,” Moore said. “A big part of this is the presentation on a media and entertainment level to try and attract the most viewers we can.
"And I think it would be great for the sport if there's increased microphones, cameras, what have you, that can deliver a better product to people who otherwise may have wanted to be in the stadium. You think of a guy like (Brad Marchand), he might win an Emmy with some of the stuff they might pick up with him. But I'm all for it.”
Bruins hand out awards
With the 2019-20 regular season now shuttered, the Bruins announced a number of their team awards earlier this week.
Brandon Carlo was handed the Eddie Shore Award — awarded by the “Gallery Gods” of TD Garden for the player demonstrating exceptional hustle and determination throughout the year. Carlo was a worthy recipient, logging 20:29 of average time on ice per game while ranking 10th among 197 NHL defensemen (min. 500 minutes of 5v5 TOI) in goals against per 60 minutes (GA/60) at 1.75.
David Pastrnak was awarded the Elizabeth Dufresne Trophy, given to the B’s player with the most outstanding performances during Bruins home games. The winger appeared in 35 games at TD Garden this year — tallying an absurd 28 goals and 49 points during that stretch. Brad Marchand took home the Dufresne Award in each of the previous three campaigns.
Patrice Bergeron was selected for the John P. Bucyk Award — given to the Bruins player that made the largest impact in the local community. The B’s top-line center once again led the team’s Pucks and Paddles event to benefit Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, while also visiting local children’s hospitals for both Halloween and Christmas. Earlier this summer, Bergeron also pledged $25,000 to both the NAACP’s Boston branch and the Centre Multiethnique de Quebec in wake of George Floyd’s murder.
Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and Marchand were also named as 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Three Stars, in that respective order. Along with Pastrnak’s goal-scoring prowess on home ice, Rask posted a .926 save percentage with three shutouts in 22 outings at TD Garden. During Marchand’s 35 games on Causeway Street, the winger lit the lamp 14 times while adding a team-high 27 assists.