With just over a week left before the Calgary Flames regular season gets underway, the group of players that will hit the ice on opening night is still up in the air. The main conversation around roster composition is focused on which players end up in Calgary and who ends up in Stockton. A smaller—yet still intriguing—discussion going on in the background is if there are any more tricks up Brad Treliving’s sleeve; specifically as it relates to Jack Eichel.
Long been rumoured to be enamoured by the former Buffalo Sabres captain, the Flames had kicked tires all summer on Eichel hoping to position him as their long-term number one centre. The discourse around Eichel’s relationship with the Sabres, his injury status, and his availability this season has been discussed at length in the hockey world, but had recently gone quiet.
That was until yesterday when TSN’s Darren Dreger started off his Wednesday with the following update:
The Sabres unwillingness to share all of Eichel’s medical records was a sticking point for most teams and the Flames aren’t any exception here. Now that that appears to have loosened a bit, the conversation around his availability via trade has reignited.
Now while there is never a bad time to acquire a player of Eichel’s calibre, for the Flames it becomes much more of a debate than it was a few months ago. As it stands today, can the Flames even make a deal to acquire him? More importantly, should they? Lets take a look:
Can the Flames make a deal with the Sabres?
A few months ago, our own Joshua Serafini wrote an excellent breakdown over why the Flames need to go all in for Eichel and at the time they had the assets to make a deal work. Based on the rumoured ask from the Vegas Golden Knights, the proposed deals were the following:
If Monahan is willing to waive his no-trade clause (NTC)
To Calgary: Jack Eichel
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
As it stands right now, both deals are still very much in play for the Flames. Whether or not the Sabres would be willing to accept them is a whole other argument.
Connor Zary is one of the Flames’ best prospects, but is unlikely to factor into the plans for this season due to his injury sustained in the prospect games a few weeks ago. Juuso Valimaki looks to be on the outside looking in to start the season on the blueline, but is still projected to be a top-four defenceman long-term. Both players combined with the draft selections would be exactly what the Sabres are asking for. The combination of Sean Monahan or Dillon Dube would give the Sabres the NHL-ready player for their lineup as well, although nowhere near Eichel’s level.
What may work better now for the Flames is they may have additional assets that could entice the Sabres to make a deal. The preseason play of Oliver Kylington and Glenn Gawdin has given them the edge to make the opening night roster, but they also may be more appealing to add into a trade package. Although you would hate to have them included as a “throw-in”, if it helps push the needle towards the Flames it is a worth while path to investigate.
In the same breath, the emergence of Kylington and Gawdin could also lessen the pain should the Flames opt to include the likes of Dube and Valimaki in a deal. If both players are currently in Sutter’s dog house and his preference would be to play Kylington and Gawdin, it could lead to an easier transition in the lineup.
The Flames have always had the assets to facilitate a deal, even if they would be extravagant, and even now as the preseason concludes, they have more viable options than they originally had in their pockets. The main concern is should the Flames push for a deal now?
Should the Flames make a deal for Eichel?
There is absolutely no denying that Eichel would be a significant upgrade to the Flames roster. He is, for lack of better words, elite.
Of course, acquiring Eichel earlier in the summer would have allowed him to go through his desired disk replacement surgery well before the season started. Due to the season starting in a few days, the likelihood of Eichel stepping on the ice in a Flames jersey after a trade is unlikely. The longer the Sabres—and their potential trade partner—wait for surgery the less likely we see Eichel this season. The player’s health and long-term comfort is most important at the end of the day, but for the Flames organization this presents a massive short-term risk.
First off, by giving up one of the proposed packages noted above, the Flames would be significantly shorthanded for the majority of the season. Monahan would be the likely candidate to go for salary reasons, and therefore leaving a big hole within the top-six.
That puts the Flames in a position of a lot less depth with a traded Monahan and an inactive Eichel. Lines would have to be shuffled to accommodate, and depending on who else goes during the deal, a combination of Gawdin, Dube, Trevor Lewis, Brad Richardson would have to centre the bottom-six.
Should the Flames play the full season with their shorthanded roster, the playoffs become much more of a question mark. Additionally, the Flames would absolutely have to give up their 2022 first-round pick to get a deal done. If the Flames were to miss the playoffs and not hold their lottery pick, it could be a disaster waiting to happen.
Additionally, Flames management entered this past offseason stating that change was coming. It never truly came. Now with Johnny Gaudreau‘s pending free agency and Matthew Tkachuk requiring a new deal, this is by far the last kick at the can with this core group. If Eichel doesn’t play the entire season, and the Flames look to rebuild afterwards, how would the team handle having a newly acquired $10M player on the roster long-term?
Risk versus reward?
The real question for the Flames is not if it is a good idea to trade for Jack Eichel, it’s whether it is a good idea to trade for Jack Eichel at this particular point in time? There is no debate over what Eichel’s impact to the lineup would be for the year-over-year success of the franchise, but without him available for most, if not all of 2021–22, it could be a growing pain season. With impatience growing within the fanbase, and more importantly ownership, would a trade at this point in time lead to a successful season?
The fortunate part of the debate is that it wouldn’t just be the Flames in this conundrum. The New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Anaheim Ducks would all be shorthanded this season after an Eichel trade. There isn’t a franchise that could get him back on the ice quicker than another. The Ducks are in the middle of a rebuild and could stomach the Eichel delay better than others, which may make their tolerance much higher; aside from the 2022 draft pick.
Would the Flames be better off with Eichel in their lineup? Absolutely.
Could the Flames potentially risk this season to acquire him now? Absolutely.
It all comes down to Eichel’s medical records and just how quickly they can expect him back on the ice. If the prognosis is middle of this season, it may be worth the risk.
Do you think the Flames should still acquire Jack Eichel? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire