Between rebuilding, retooling, or sitting pat, the Calgary Flames are most likely going to go with the middle option this offseason. Given how current Stanley Cup contenders are built, the Flames just simply aren’t there yet. But the Flames brass and the team itself probably knows they’re just a few key pieces away. An elite first-line centre like Jack Eichel might be one of keys. How much should Calgary be willing to pay to acquire him? We asked, you answered.
Making moves for Jack Eichel
The Buffalo Sabres are in a bit of a bind when it comes to Eichel. Recently, he openly expressed his displeasure with how the team handled his injury, which makes the offseason a little bit tougher to navigate for both camps. At this point, it’s almost a certainty that many teams around the league are going to start putting serious packages together to attempt to pry the Sabres’ captain off of the team.
It’s not exactly clear what the Flames’ views are of acquiring Eichel, but if Brad Treliving is doing his job, he better be prepared to entertain the possibility. There are various trade packages that teams are going to put together to be as lucrative for Buffalo as possible, but instead of theorising the ideal package the Flames can put together, the Sunday Census poll looks at a more detailed aspect of the trade: Calgary’s current first line.
If Buffalo says that the only way the trade happens is if Calgary includes one of Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, or Elias Lindholm, then the Flames would effectively be filling out on hole in their roster while creating another. Does it make sense to include any of these players for Eichel?
Essentially, there are different paths to Eichel, and Treliving will do as Treliving does and go down every single one, leaving no stone unturned to see if a trade can be done.
Eichel would make the Flames better
Bringing in a centreman like Eichel will upgrade the Flames no matter who goes the other way. The thing to consider is how much doing so would cost the Flames. Would moving either of their current elite wingers in Gaudreau or Tkachuk ultimately classify the move as making them definitively better over just marginally better?
The Flames might back out of a trade if the cost is too high overall, but they might consider it an all-in type of move where they’re willing to part ways with current core pieces to have Eichel with the team long-term. In reality, they would have to anyway, as they would be over the cap otherwise (more on that later).
Among their current first liners, Tkachuk was voted as the most untouchable. After all, if Eichel does end up coming to Calgary, then the exchange of one elite level player for another doesn’t add up as nicely as it would if the Flames’ top-paid player was able to remain a Flame after the trade dust settles. What if it ends up being a lateral move that bolsters depth in one position and exposes the lack of depth in another? Then the Flames are in the same spot with different faces.
Lindholm was second, which also makes sense because if Eichel takes the top line spot, the bumping Lindholm down to the second line as a centre would make Calgary highly dangerous on offence. Worst case scenario, Lindholm can always revert back to the wing and remain on the first line to boot.
Lastly, Gaudreau had the smallest portion of votes, where he seems to be the most “expendable” piece of the three. However, Gaudreau’s been one of Calgary’s best players for a long time. Even on a down year, he’s seemingly more held back by bad linemates over his own play. Moreover, Gaudreau has expressed interest in staying long-term with Calgary, dispelling any notion that he wants to jump ship.
Then finally, there is a quarter of the votes going towards doing anything it takes to acquire Eichel, and any current first-liner would be tradeable. While most people would not want to see Tkachuk going the other way, there’s still a sizeable cohort of voters that want to see things through at any cost, and it’d be acceptable for the Flames to make any moves necessary.
In actuality, this openness to trading pieces to get Eichel should really be considered by all teams interested in Eichel, not just the Flames. A general manager must start there and constantly reassess as other teams start showing their hands in the trade talks. Eichel could very well be the player that the Flames build their future around if the trade does happen, so they should act accordingly and be ready to make the moves necessary to get him to Calgary.
Navigating the salary cap
However, Eichel also carries with him a cap hit of $10M, which means the Flames would have to get a bit creative to make them cap-compliant, as the minimum difference would still be a $3M difference if it ends up being Tkachuk going the other way. Buffalo probably isn’t in the business of helping out teams by retaining too much of Eichel’s salary either, unless they end up backed into a corner.
The Flames might not even consider themselves in on Eichel until their cap picture becomes clearer after the Seattle Expansion Draft. Depending on who the Kraken select from the Flames, they might be hard-pressed to find the cap space required to make the trade a reality. If they take a player like Oliver Kylington, there would be barely any cap relief. The Kraken—being in the Pacific Division—have a lot of incentive to keep their rivals in tighter spaces.
Alternatively, if the Kraken take someone like Mark Giordano (assuming he is exposed as he should be), then there would be some cap relief and added flexibility for the Flames, but it would ultimately downgrade their blueline too.
There are a few big ifs surrounding the salary cap for Calgary. They can move more current roster players in additional trades to make it work under the cap, but at this point they are veering dangerously close to blowing things up for one player. The question remains, would Eichel still be worth it? It might end up setting the Flames back for the immediate future and instead set them up for the years down the line. It all depends on the Flames’ roadmap.
For the Flames, they would immediately elevate their team with the addition of Eichel, but they need to build around becoming perennial contenders and not just a short-term go at the Cup. The Pacific Division will be home to the NHL’s two latest expansion teams with the Vegas Golden Knights being easy favourites to win the division for the next few years, while the Seattle Kraken are going to be highly data-driven to build the best team they can. As incredible as it makes out to be, these two teams really will give the Pacific a run for its money year in and year out.
The Flames should look to keep their best players around while adding fresh talent with Eichel, all while avoiding removing too much. They need to take advantage of their core’s prime years while they still can to remain competitive now, and then work to develop their set of fairly good prospects for the future.
In acquiring Eichel, there would be some difficult decisions to make. The current roster is guaranteed to not be in tact, as the math behind the cap makes it so, and the writing was also on the wall that change is afoot in Calgary after their disappointing 2021 performance.
Ultimately, the Flames would be toeing the line between adding Eichel to compete now versus adding Eichel to compete a few years down the line. Rest assured that Treliving is going over every option. We’ll see soon enough if interest for Eichel picks up any real steam for Calgary.
Lastly, imagine the near future—even with the overall quality of the Flames’ roster aside—the year after year storylines of Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel for the Battles of Alberta would make the hockey rivalry even better than it already is.
Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images
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