Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Calgary Flames have come runner-up to the the division rival Vegas Golden Knights in a sweepstakes for a superstar player. Well after the news broke yesterday morning, the Flames can add another instance to their list. Jack Eichel has officially been traded to the Golden Knights, with the Flames coming second place once again.
Brad Treliving has made it a habit during his seven mediocre years in Calgary to constantly miss out on star players, and it appears as though he has no intention of stopping. For whatever the reason may be, Treliving is simply unwilling or unable to get the job done when it matters most.
So how did the saga unfold? Could the Flames have matched Vegas’ offer? And what’s next? Let’s take a look.
A rollercoaster week for the Flames
After all was quiet on the Eichel front to start the season, things took big turn this week as talks and rumours heated up very quickly to start the week. It all started on Tuesday night as ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan went on TV and dropped this bombshell.
The talks were reportedly down to just two teams, Vegas and Calgary with talks mentioned as “being on the one-yard line.” Things continued to heat up the following day on Wednesday as Kevin Weekes dropped a massive rumour surrounding the Flames and their potential offer for Eichel.
This created massive waves among Flames fans, with many claiming the reported offer was much too high to give up for Eichel. Things heated up even further when Buffalo Sabres reported John Vogl tweeted out that the Sabres were feeling pressure to get a deal done ASAP just an hour after Weekes’ tweet.
With both Weekes and Vogl’s tweets coming just an hour apart, it sent Flames fans into a frenzy. The deal seemed all but certain at this point with Tkachuk going the other way, it was just a matter of time. That didn’t last long however, as not only did multiple sources refute the rumour that Matthew Tkachuk was involved in the deal, there were also multiple reports that the Flames actually weren’t even close and were not the favourites to get the deal done.
Well we all know what would happen next. In seemingly a perfect re-creation of the Mark Stone saga, many Flames fans ended their nights believing Eichel was on his way to Calgary and the deal would be done very soon. Instead they awoke to the news that Calgary had once again been beaten out by their divisional rival the Golden Knights.
Pierre Lebrun went as far as to say that at one point on Wednesday night Vegas thought Eichel was on his way to Calgary.
“There was a moment as late as Wednesday where the Golden Knights thought Eichel might be headed to Calgary… [the Flames] may have felt their off to Buffalo was not only fair but perhaps better than Vegas.”Pierre Lebrun via The Athletic
So the Knights must’ve offered a king’s ransom that the Flames simply couldn’t match right? Wrong.
After all the reports of the Sabres wanting a minimum of four first-round pieces in any deal for Eichel, they ended up getting just three. Here’s what the eventual offer looked like that brought Eichel to Vegas.
If you feel like you’re reliving an old memory, it’s because you are. Once again not only do the Flames miss out on a star player to Vegas, the eventual deal is one well below market value and one that could’ve easily been beaten by the Flames. I mean, this deal is just nowhere near what people had reported the Flames would have to give up to get Eichel.
After removing the swap of a second-round pick for a third-round pick, the deal is Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, and a top-10 protected first-round pick for Eichel. It’s very hard to imagine how the Flames couldn’t have matched this offer. Krebs and Tuch are solid pieces, but nowhere near gamebreaking players, and certainly not ones that the Flames couldn’t top.
Tuch is a solid top-six winger, however he has a career high of just 53 points, achieved back in 2018–19. Tuch, like Eichel is also coming off a major injury and surgery and has not played yet this season. His underlying numbers to this point in his career have been solid, but nothing special. Here’s a look at his RAPM chart from the past three seasons courtesy of Evolving-Hockey.com.
Krebs meanwhile was the 17th overall pick in the 2019 draft and has produced 10 points across nine career AHL games, along with one point in 13 NHL games. In his final year of junior last season he posted 43 points in 24 WHL games to lead the league in scoring as an over-ager.
All said, a less-than-spectacular package of players for a top-10 centre in the NHL. Had Vegas offered up someone like Shea Theodore on top of multiple picks and prospects, you could understand why the Flames wouldn’t have been able to or wanting to match. However given the offer that was eventually accepted, it’s simply unacceptable that Brad Treliving was unable to match it.
An unmatchable offer for Eichel?
Now that there’s no longer any speculation or rumours of what a potential deal could look like and we finally now now what the deal did look like, let’s take a look at how the Flames could have matched and topped this offer from Vegas.
The key piece to the deal for the Sabres was clearly Krebs. The Sabres clearly wanted a young centre prospect as the key piece of the deal coming back for Eichel, and in Krebs they got one. The rumours surrounding Krebs go all the way back to September when it was reported the Golden Knights were unwilling to part with him in an Eichel deal.
For whatever reason that changed and Vegas was willing to give him up. So is Krebs just too sweet of a piece that the Flames couldn’t have matched it? Not really. Back in August, The Athletic’s Corey Pronman projected Krebs as a “quality top-six forward” and “bubble top and middle of lineup player.” Not exactly the description of an elite blue-chip prospect.
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranked his top 50 NHL prospects back in August, with Krebs coming in at number 26. Also ranked on the list? Two Flames prospects in Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier, at 44 and 46 respectively.
Now both Zary and Pelletier are not on the same level as Krebs, but consider this. Last season in the WHL Krebs led the league with 43 points in 25 games, for a 1.79 points per game pace at age 19. Zary, who is eight months younger, produced 24 points in 15 games for 1.6 points per game last year. Across their WHL careers, Krebs produced 231 points in 199 games, while Zary produced 206 points in 203 games.
In the AHL in 2020–21 Zary produced seven points in nine games, while Krebs produced 10 points in seven games. They may not be as far apart in value as one might believe.
Now I’m not saying that Zary is as good as Krebs—Krebs is clearly a better prospect than anything the Flames have in their system right now —but Krebs is not better in the ways Trevor Zegras or Quinton Byfield are better. The Flames could easily have matched the value the Sabres got with Krebs by offering up Zary plus an additional pick or prospect.
Tuch meanwhile is a solid second line winger, but once again is nowhere near a player that the Flames couldn’t have out bid. A combination of Sean Monahan, Dillon Dube, and/or Matthew Coronato or Juuso Valimaki could have been equal value. In the end the Sabres ended up getting a second line winger, a projected second line centre, and a first-round pick that can be no higher than 11th overall. Yet the Flames managed to fall short of that somehow.
Acquiring Eichel came with obstacles
Now not to justify Brad Treliving’s failures, but there were certainly some major obstacles surrounding the Flames when it came to getting this deal done—some of them self-inflicted though. The biggest factors preventing the Flames from making a deal with the Sabres most likely came down to two things. One was their incredibly tight cap situation, and the second was the fact the Sabres clearly valued long-term team control.
After dishing out around $5.7 million in cap space in the offseason to two bottom pairing defencemen, Treliving immediately made any deal for Eichel much more difficult. Entering the season with just around $1 million in cap space, the team would have needed to clear considerable cap to fit in Eichel’s $10 million cap hit before placing him on LTIR.
The clear option to move out to clear that space was Monahan, the issue was he has a 10-team no-trade clause. If Monahan was unwilling to waive to go to Buffalo (which almost every player would be) it would’ve made things incredibly difficult on the Flames to get the deal done. They would have had to get another team involved in the deal to clear cap space, or move out a player like Tkachuk.
Here’s the thing though, both of those players were reportedly not involved in trade discussions with the Sabres. If that’s the case, the Flames would’ve had to get extremely creative in order to make a deal work.
The second obstacle could’ve been Buffalo’s need for team control in whatever asset they acquired for Eichel. Both Tuch and Krebs come with long-term team control, which was clearly a focus of the Sabres considering what they were giving up. Krebs is currently on an entry-level deal which expires following the 2023–24 season when he’s still just 23. After which he will be an RFA and under team control with no arbitration rights.
Tuch meanwhile is in the third year of a seven-year, $33.25 million deal that he signed back in 2018, meaning he’s still under contract for another four seasons after this one and will become a free agent following the 2025–26 season when he’s 29.
The fact is the Flames simply couldn’t offer those type of assets to the Sabres. Whether it was Monahan or even Tkachuk, neither would be under the Sabres control for over two seasons. Monahan has just one more year on his contract after this season before becoming a UFA in 2023, while Tkachuk is an upcoming RFA after this season and can become a UFA following the 2022–23 season.
Had Tkachuk even been involved in the trade discussion, the Sabres almost certainly would’ve wanted assurance he would sign long-term with them after being dealt. That probably never would’ve happened, which would obviously make the Sabres unwilling to accept him as a key piece of a deal.
The fact is Treliving put himself in a very difficult situation to get a deal done for Eichel after the offseason, and add that to Monahan’s NTC and Tkachuk’s contract status and you’ve got a very difficult path to a deal. One that was clearly too difficult to overcome in the end.
What’s next for Calgary?
Now that the saga has finally ended and Eichel is a Golden Knight, the big question surrounding the Flames is what’s next? The fact is Treliving clearly understands the major need for this roster of a top-six impact forward. He wouldn’t be trying to acquire every major forward on the market if he didn’t. He’s been in on everyone from Mark Stone, to Nazem Kadri to Taylor Hall, and now Eichel over the past few years, so he’s clearly identified a major need for his team.
The issue is he’s come up short each and every time and never has a Plan B. His solution has always been to just go out and acquire fringe bottom-six players after missing out on the big fish. That’s not good enough anymore. This roster is at a pivotal point right now and is running out of time to go on a run. When talking about Eichel back in August I put it out there that the Flames need to pick a lane: go all in or rebuild. Well by coming that close to Eichel they clearly want to go all in, so they should actually do that.
Go out and try to acquire the likes of Tomas Hertl, or Filip Forsberg. Treliving cannot just settle for failure and mediocrity once again. Sure the Flames have gotten off to a great start at 6–1–3, but a ten game sample is far too small to conclude this team is a playoff team as is. Time is running out for this core and the same situation still stands, pick a lane and go all-in, don’t settle with what you have because if history is any indication it probably won’t be good enough.
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