With another free agent frenzy finished, the outlook across the NHL has changed with over 100 players switching teams across the league. The Calgary Flames in particular made one of the bigger splashes this year, locking down two-time Stanley Cup winner and two-way dynamo Blake Coleman to a six year, $29.4 million contract. Coleman immediately becomes one of the team’s best forwards and is expected to take on a huge role under Darryl Sutter.
The team also signed former Los Angeles King and Winnipeg Jet Trevor Lewis, in addition to trading for defenceman Nikita Zadorov and backup goaltender Daniel Vladar. The Flames certainly filled some major holes in their lineup at forward, on defence, and in net, but the question remains, are they good enough to contend for a Stanley Cup?
I think the answer to that is a very clear no. So what can the Flames do to finally become a true Cup contender? Enter Jack Eichel. If the Flames truly want to be considered a contender they need to do whatever it takes to get the 2015 second overall pick to Calgary.
No more half-measures from Calgary
The Flames are known for mediocrity. More so than pretty much every single team in the league. The Flames have made it out of the first round of the playoffs just twice, in 2004 and 2015, since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989. Beyond that, they’ve made it out of the second round just once since 1989: in 2004 during their Cup run.
Despite this they are the only team in the entire NHL—including Seattle—who has never picked inside the top three of the NHL draft in franchise history. Never good enough to win, but never bad enough to get a top-three pick. The definition of mediocrity.
Since hiring Brad Treliving in the summer of 2014, the Flames have won just one playoff series, and have made the playoffs just four out of seven seasons. It’s worth mentioning that the only team that has won a playoff series under Treliving—the 2014–15 miracle team—was largely a Jay Feaster roster. Only a few players on the team were brought in by Treliving. Since 2014–15, the Flames have won just three playoff games across six seasons. It’s fair to say that no Flames roster constructed by Treliving has won a playoff series.
One of the reasons for this mediocrity has been Treliving’s unwillingness to solve the team’s issues at forward. We’ve heard about how the team almost acquired Mark Stone, Taylor Hall, Jason Zucker, and Nazem Kadri over the past couple years. Yet each and every time the Flames came up just short, didn’t have a Plan B, and ended up sticking with their current team.
Here is the extensive list of forwards Treliving has added via trade since acquiring Elias Lindholm (and Noah Hanifin). Add Tyler Pitlick to the list as well now.
For a team that has had offensive issues for years, and claims they are in a win-now mode, it’s simply unacceptable that these four forwards are the only ones added via trade in over three years. Not a single one is a top-six forward or impact player.
Since there were rumblings of him being available, the Flames were immediately linked to Eichel—as they typically are with any top forward on the market. The difference is this time they need to actually take the next step and close the deal.
It’s come to a point where the Flames need to pick a lane. Either enter a full teardown and rebuild, or go all-in and try to win with this core. Time is running out. Johnny Gaudreau turns 28 in August and is a UFA next year, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm turn 27 this year, and Matthew Tkachuk is an RFA in a year. Meanwhile Chris Tanev, Jacob Markstrom, Mikael Backlund and newly signed Blake Coleman aren’t getting any younger.
Given the recent moves they have made over the last year, it’s clear the organization wants to win now. They brought back Darryl Sutter on a three-year contract, they’ve traded draft picks for depth, and adding Coleman on his contract signifies they want to compete with this current core.
The problem is the Flames still aren’t good enough to win a Stanley Cup. Could they go on a miracle run like the Montreal Canadiens just did? Maybe, but that isn’t something an organization should hope for. Given their current roster, the ceiling for this team right now still seems like the second round of the playoffs at best.
If they truly want to compete and win now, they need to do whatever they can to make the Flames a better team. What better opportunity is there then acquiring a 24-year-old elite first line centre? Opportunities like that almost never come up. If the Flames are truly serious about winning now, they should be willing to do whatever it takes to acquire Eichel. So how good is Eichel anyways? Let’s take a look.
Jack Eichel is seriously elite
Make no mistake, Eichel is very good. He would immediately become the team’s best player by a wide margin. Despite being just 24 years old and stuck on the worst franchise in the NHL, Eichel has already put up some great numbers in his young career. Here are his point totals among all centres in the NHL since entering the league in 2015. Even strength totals are courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
|Stat||Eichel||League rank among centres (since 2015)|
At first glance his numbers aren’t great, but it’s worth noting of course just how bad the Sabres have been since Eichel entered the league. Since Eichel’s rookie season in 2015–16 season, the Sabres have the least amount of wins in the league (not including Vegas), the worst winning percentage, have scored the second fewest goals, and have the second worst goals per game. It’s fair to say Eichel’s numbers have been greatly affected by playing in Buffalo.
Eichel leads the Sabres in points since his rookie season, with 61 more points than second place Sam Reinhart despite playing in 70 fewer games. Following Reinhart, the Sabres don’t have a single other forward with over 200 points over the last six seasons. Eichel’s 0.95 points per game is also by far the best on the Sabres since 2015.
He was also held to just 21 games this past season due to his neck injury. If we remove last season, Eichel ranks 15th for goals, 16th for assists, and 14th for points among centres in the NHL since his rookie year. All this while playing in the offensive wasteland known as Buffalo.
Here’s a look at how Eichel’s underlying numbers have looked over the past three seasons in Buffalo. All numbers are 5v5 score-and-venue adjusted, courtesy of naturalstattrick.com.
|Stat||Eichel||League rank among centres|
Again, we can’t look at these numbers without mentioning just how awful the Sabres have been since Eichel joined the team. Their underlying numbers as a team are terrible. They rank third last for xGF%, sixth worst for CF%, and second worst for xGF (ahead of only Vegas who entered the league in 2017) since Eichel’s rookie season in 2015–16.
Despite this Eichel still comes off looking decent here, posting totals above water over 50 in all four categories over the the last three seasons. It’s fair to wonder how good his numbers would look had he been playing on a competent team with elite linemates this whole time.
Here’s a look at his regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) chart over the past three seasons courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
Again Eichel looks very solid here across the board considering his circumstances. His RAPM chart looks better than any current Flames centre, despite playing on the bottom feeder Sabres. In particular, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t appear that he has any main weaknesses. Both his offensive and defensive totals are very solid considering just how bad his team has been and he is an elite option on the power play as well.
A lot has been made about Eichel’s 2020–21 season in which he only scored two goals, however those numbers are almost entirely due to bad luck. His xGF%, CF%, and HDCF% were all above 50% and top-three on his team. Despite posting just two goals in 21 games, Eichel posted 61 shots, 107 iCF, and 19 iHDCF. The reason for his low goal totals was his career-worst 3.28 shooting percentage. Before last season, his career shooting percentage was 11%.
It’s essentially a guarantee his shooting percentage and goal totals bounce back next season if he is healthy. Courtesy of @JFreshHockey, Eichel posted elite offensive and defensive numbers last year, however his finishing fell off a cliff.
His offense has been elite for the last three years. In particular, during the 2019–20 season, Eichel’s WAR percentile rank, offence, and finishing were among the very best in the entire league.
Defensively, Eichel posted the best numbers of his career last season. His CA/60 of 38.47 last season was the best of his career. His xGA/60 of 2.29 and his HDCA/60 of 7.81 were also the best totals of his career. Among forwards on the Sabres with at least 20 games played last year, all three totals ranked first on the team.
It’s obviously a small sample size, but it’s certainly encouraging to see Eichel post such solid defensive numbers on such a bad team. On a team like the Flames who were one of the best defensive teams in the league last year under Sutter, Eichel’s defensive numbers should have no problem remaining strong.
No matter how you look at it, Eichel is an elite player in this league and would be the Flames best centre and player overall. Had he been playing on a better team with better linemates since his career started, he would no doubt rank much higher in every stat.
Potential offers the Flames can make for Eichel
Now if the Flames want to acquire Eichel, it won’t be an easy trade to make. Eichel is probably the best forward available through trade since Joe Thornton in 2006, so the trade to acquire him will understandably be a massive one.
The Sabres ask has reportedly been astronomical as expected, which has scared off most potential suitors to this point. However, last week, Ryan Kennedy reported the Sabres ask from the Golden Knights for Eichel, and it was quite underwhelming to say the least.
If that’s truly what the ask is for the Sabres, the Flames should have no problem matching that. Many people predicted the Flames would have to give up Tkachuk in any Eichel trade, however that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The longer this situation drags on, the more pressure the Sabres are under to deal Eichel, which lowers his price on the market.
So what could a potential offer from the Flames look like? First we’ll have to look at the Flames’ current cap situation. As it stands the Flames currently have $12.175 million in cap space available, however they have a ton of RFAs to sign which will take up a considerable chunk of that.
We took a look at the projected contracts for these RFAs last week. If each contract comes in around the expected value, the Flames will have around $4 million left to work with. Considering Eichel carries a cap hit of $10 million for the next five seasons, the Flames will obviously have to move out some money if they want to fit Eichel onto their roster.
The obvious candidate to ship out would be Monahan. The Flames have reportedly been trying to move Monahan since last offseason, so it would make sense if he were the odd man out. Another key factor is that he currently caries the highest cap hit among centres on the roster at $6.375 million for another two seasons.
Monahan has struggled the last two seasons, however he is still just 26 years old and has plenty of time to get his career back on track so he still brings some trade value. The one caveat with moving Monahan is that he currently has a 10 team no-trade list, and the Sabres are almost certainly on that list.
So the Flames have two options; either convince Monahan to accept a trade to Buffalo, or trade him to another team for picks/prospects to clear up space for Eichel. If Monahan isn’t willing to go to Buffalo, Treliving and co. will have to get creative to make it work.
If Monahan is willing to waive his NTC
To Buffalo: Sean Monahan, Connor Zary, Juuso Valimaki, 2022 first-round pick
To Calgary: Jack Eichel
This would be the preferred route for the Flames. They are able to shed Monahan’s contract directly in a trade for Eichel, and don’t have to give up any other forwards from the current roster. Sure, seeing promising young players like Conner Zary and Juuso Valimaki leave would be tough, but both are still far from being impact players in the NHL and the team is trying to win right now.
Cap-wise the Flames would be shedding Monahan’s $6.375 million cap hit and Valimaki’s projected $1.65 million cap hit, while bringing in Eichel’s $10 million cap hit. This would leave the Flames with around $2 million in cap space to work with which could go towards finding a replacement for Valimaki on defence.
If Monahan isn’t willing to waive his NTC
To Buffalo: Dillon Dube, Connor Zary, Juuso Valimaki, 2022 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick
To Calgary: Jack Eichel
*Monahan is traded to a separate team for picks/prospects
The Flames would probably need to add on some more value if Dube is swapped in for Monahan in the form of another pick or prospect so let’s say one of the Flames two 2022 second-round picks is added.
If Monahan isn’t willing to waive his NTC to go to Buffalo, it complicates things for the Flames. They could either work out a three way trade, or simply move Monahan in a different trade. How about the Ottawa Senators? The Sens have reportedly been looking for a veteran top-six centre and Monahan spent three years with the Ottawa 67’s during his junior career. Let’s say the return is a combination of picks and prospects with no salary coming back the Flames way.
In this situation the Flames would clear Monahan’s cap hit, Valimaki’s cap hit, and Dube’s projected $1.65 million cap hit. After adding on Eichel’s cap hit the Flames would be left with around $3.65 million in cap space. They would need to use this to find a replacement for Valimaki on defence, and for Dube in the bottom-six if they don’t think their younger players are ready yet. The cap situation is certainly much tighter in this situation if the Flames need to move out two forwards from their current roster instead of just Monahan.
An elite top-six
Regardless of which situation were to occur, adding Eichel to the Flames top-six would give them one of the best top-six groups in the entire NHL. For years, the biggest complaint about the Flames forward group is that they didn’t have the firepower and talent to match up with the top teams in the league. Case in point, the 2018–19 series against Nathan Mackinnon and the Avs’ deadly top line.
With Eichel and Coleman both in the mix, the Flames would possess the personnel to match up well with any group in the league. Here’s how I see the top-six looking if Eichel were brought in.
To put it short: wow. This group would be absolutely dominate and among the very best in the entire NHL. A potential Gaudreau, Eichel, Tkachuk all-American line should make any Flames fan excited. The trio would certainly be among the best lines in the entire league along with Boston’s perfection line and the Avalanche’s deadly trio of MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.
The second line isn’t anything to slouch at either. With two elite even strength wingers in Andrew Mangiapane and Coleman on the wings and a talented offensive player like Lindholm in the middle, the second line would be a nightmare matchup at 5v5 no matter who they’re playing against.
This is a top-six group that could go toe to toe with the very best top-sixes in the west in Vegas, Colorado, and Edmonton. I mean how much fun would an Eichel vs Connor McDavid Battle of Alberta be every year? Sign me up.
It’s now or never for the Flames
There’s no doubt that time is running out for this core. The organization is clearly in a win-now mode, so it’s time to take the next step and show the fanbase that they are serious about doing whatever it takes to win. The Flames aren’t at a point where they can be refusing to give up prospects or picks in deals for elite players like Eichel that will help make the team better right now.
It’s time for this team to pick a lane and stick with it. As it stands, the Flames simply aren’t a good enough team to contend for a Stanley Cup. Sure, they may be improved over last season with their new additions and Sutter behind the bench, but I think most fans would agree they still aren’t good enough to compete with the top teams in the league.
Eichel can help change that. Very rarely is a player as good as Eichel with term on his contract available for trade. Treliving has been given a perfect opportunity to improve this team and fully commit to winning with this core. It’s up to him to get it done and not make the same mistake he’s made in the past of taking half measures. It truly is now or never for this team.