Jack Eichel played against his potential future team in his potential future home on Tuesday night against the Rangers at the Garden. Everything points to Eichel becoming a Ranger sometime in the next five months, and all of today’s thoughts are on a potential Eichel trade.
1. When the Rangers traded for Rick Nash nine years ago this July, they gave up Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick. It should hurt a team to acquire a talent like Nash, a 40-goal scorer and Team Canada first-liner, and it didn’t hurt at all. All three of those players were expendable. The only thing that hurt was losing the 2013 first-round pick, but the Blue Jackets used that pick on Kerby Rychel and he has played 43 career NHL games (with his last coming during the 2018-19 season). The Rangers used the the third-round pick they received from Columbus in the deal on Pavel Buchnevich.
2. Like Nash, it should hurt for the Rangers to trade for Jack Eichel, but I don’t think it will. It will hurt a little more than it did to acquire Nash because of Eichel’s age and position, but nearly not to the level it should. Eichel “reportedly” being unhappy in Buffalo and this being public knowledge assures the Rangers won’t pay full value for the 24-year-old center. The Sabres will be negotiating from a point of weakness, just like the Blue Jackets were nearly nine years ago.
3. Nash spent nine seasons in Columbus and played in one postseason a four-game sweep. He had been a two-time 40-goal scorer for the Blue Jackets and had scored at least 30 goals in seven of his nine seasons with them. This is Eichel’s sixth season in Buffalo. He has never played in a postseason game, and also has never scored 40 goals, scoring more than 28 just once (36 last season), but he plays the more demanding and coveted position and is four years younger than Nash was when the Rangers traded for him.
4. Sure, the Sabres could keep Eichel if they don’t approve of an offer for him, but that seems like the least likely result of how this plays out. The most likely result is Eichel being traded in the upcoming offseason, followed by Eichel being traded during this season, and lastly, Eichel remaining with the Sabres for 2021-22. Keeping Eichel would cause the Sabres to run the the risk of him getting injured, less happy playing in Buffalo or possibly being less productive. He would also be a year older. The Sabres’ return for Eichel will only lessen the longer he’s a Sabre past this summer.
5. As a Rangers fan, of course I want the Rangers to land someone like Eichel. He is one of the game’s best pure goal scorers (just don’t look at his numbers this season), a true No. 1 center and only 24 years old. He checks every box the Rangers need (and every team needs for that matter). The Rangers are going to exit their rebuild/transition status for the 2021-22 season, and adding Eichel to a team whose young core features Alexis Lafreniere (19), Kappo Kakko (20), Filip Chytil (21), Adam Fox (23) and K’Andre Miller (21) makes all the sense in the world. Even Artemi Panarin (29), Mika Zibanejad (27), Chris Kreider (29) and Jacob Trouba (27) are all currently still in their 20s. The problem is, to get Eichel, not all of those names would be on the 2021-22 Rangers.
6. To me, Lafreniere, Kakko, Chytil, Fox and Miller are untouchables, and the Rangers don’t need to include them given Buffalo’s position in an inevitable trade. Panarin isn’t going anywhere, and neither are Kreider or Trouba. That leaves Zibanejad and Chytil from those names.
7. Right now, Zibanejad and Chytil are the Rangers’ two best centers, even if Zibanejad has looked lost this season, and Chytil has barely played. (It’s remarkable the Rangers are only six points out of a playoff spot given the lack of production from these two.) Zibanejad’s name has been the most consistent in proposed returns for the Sabres in an Eichel trade because he will be a free agent at the end of next season, his salary will help offset Eichel’s $10 million per and the Rangers seemingly can’t keep Zibanejad and pay Eichel and pay Panarin and Trouba what they owe them and have enough room for eventual deals for the five untouchables.
8. The problem is, at best, the Rangers have two great centers in Zibanejad in Chytil, when Chytil is playing at his peak level. (Sorry, Ryan Strome and Brett Howden). Removing either one for Eichel puts the Rangers in the same position they are currently in. Unless the one they’re removing is Chytil. But by trading Chytil, the Rangers run the risk of losing Zibanejad after next season and then they would only have Eichel as a capable top-six center. The Rangers’ window with both Eichel and Zibanejad would be one season. One season to outlast 31 other teams isn’t promising.
9. At this point, I would be surprised if Eichel isn’t eventually a Ranger. All signs point to him being traded, and the Rangers have the cap space and the assets to complete a trade. It makes the most sense for the Rangers to trade for Eichel in the offseason rather than during the season, when it will undoubtedly cost them less, especially in a season in which it’s a stretch to see them reaching the postseason given their inconsistent play and the division they play in.
10. When the Rangers sent out the letter three years ago before they began to dismantle the core of their team over the next three calendar years by trading Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal and by buying out Henrik Lundqvist, I didn’t see them being here in a such a relatively short amount of time. Here being trading for Trouba, signing Panarin, miraculously landing the No. 2 pick in Kakko and even more miraculously landing the No. 1 pick in Lafreniere, hitting on two potential Top 2 defensemen in Fox and Miller and having the first heir to Lundqvist look like the next Lundqvist in Igor Shesterkin. Now, it seems like they will inevitably trade for Eichel at a discounted rate between now and the first game of 2021-22.
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