The Calgary Flames have gone 6–1–1 to start the season. Jacob Markstrom has posted two straight shutouts, and the team in front of him has been very good at putting the puck in the back of the net. Not only that, they went 5–0–0 on their last road trip through the Eastern United States, which was the first time that they had swept a road trip since 2007. The team is among the best in the entire NHL at this point.
If it ain’t broke
Nearly 10% of the season has already been completed and the team seems to be firing on all cylinders. Despite this, the Flames are still very much in the mix for Jack Eichel. The currently injured Sabre has been waiting for a surgery that the Sabres do not deem to be the best medical option for him, despite his and other doctors providing medical opinions of another option. The CBA does give Eichel’s camp the right to seek a second opinion, the Sabres are under no obligation to go ahead with it.
As a result, Eichel has asked for a trade to a team that will allow him to pursue the surgery that he feels he needs, but the Sabres are waiting for a team to meet the asking price that they want. This waiting game has had its ebbs and flows, but it feels like it is coming to a head so as to avoid the risk of a grievance being filed by Eichel’s camp.
For this reason, we asked whether it would still be worth pursuing the former Hobey Baker winner:
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This was one of the most popular polls we have run, with over 500 voters in a matter of hours along with numerous comments on both sides.
The no camp
Just over 13% of respondents felt Eichel was not worth the risk. There are a few key arguments for this side, perhaps most important of all is the cost. The former second overall pick in 2015 will garner a very heavy price, with Buffalo reportedly asking for four pieces coming their way. This goes along with making the cap hit work, which would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $9 million dollars per season.
For the Flames to make it work, the package would have to start with a big-ticket player like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, or Sean Monahan simply for salary purposes. Then you would have to throw in at least one smaller number player who makes an impact like Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Juuso Valimaki, or someone else. It seems unlikely that the Sabres would take a player like Nikita Zadorov at this point. Then comes at least one blue-chip prospect and likely the Flames’ first round pick next season. Wow, that’s a lot.
All this for a player who needs neck surgery with no guarantees of how he will be once he returns to the ice. With the Flames dealing with their own oft-injured player slow to return to form in Monahan, the risks of Eichel not being the player he was before are very real. On top of that, he will likely be out for some months, leaving the Flames shorthanded on the ice for that time. Are they good enough to handle that without at least one or two roster players for the time being? That’s a big question mark.
The yes camp
Over 85% of respondents said some form of yes- either absolutely yes or would be nice to have. No matter what way you cut it, Eichel would be the Flames’ best centre by a country mile if they could sign him. He would be the organization’s highest draft pick on the team since Roman Hamrlik left in 2007, and would undoubtedly make this team better when he returns to form.
On top of that, the Flames have been good for eight games, but only eight games. What is to say that they will continue to put up these numbers through the course of the rest of the season? Flames fans are fully aware of the amount of heartbreak that this team can cause especially when things appear to be going well. This core in particular has a bad history of listening very well to a coach when he first comes onto the bench but then giving up as the season wears on. Is this run the real deal or just a fluke?
Adding Eichel to the mix sends a message from management that they believe in their players. It shows that they believe that this group has what it takes to make it into the playoffs and believes that they can make a deep run through it going into the spring. The team already looks like a playoff team at this point, but adding Jack Eichel makes them look like a legitimate threat in the Pacific.
Undoubtedly the biggest question separating the “nice to have” from the “absolutely” crowd is the cost. Eichel is an expensive acquisition for this team, and losing at least one big-ticket player plus an impactful younger player plus likely one of the Flames four best prospects in Matthew Coronato, Connor Zary, Dustin Wolf, or Jacob Pelletier, not to mention a potential first round pick is a lot to give up, but adding a player who automatically becomes likely the team’s best forward if not the team’s best player is worth the price. The risk is worth the reward.
What does it all come down to
At the start of the season, GM Brad Treliving talked about the importance of not only adding the best players to the team but adding the right players to help compliment the fabric and makeup of the organization. No matter what way you look at it, Eichel makes this team much better and makes the fabric of this team stronger. The Flames are heading into a rocky couple of seasons on the cap front, with 11 players due for new contracts this coming summer and a further four at the end of next season. That’s nearly three-quarters of the current roster looking for a new deal or a new home in the next two seasons.
The Flames only have one forward under contract long term in Blake Coleman, and will likely need to make some changes to their core group in a few seasons. Adding Eichel gives them some hope of continuity through this time, and adds an elite talent that they simply have not been able to find to this point in the draft or trade market. While GM Treliving has missed on a number of key star signings, the Flames have an opportunity to finally get one with Eichel.
It’s your time to shine, Brad.