Nobody knows where Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart will play hockey next season, but everyone has ideas on where the fits are. For me, I would prefer to send both players West if possible, although any team offering the best deal has to also take priority. One idea that has really surfaced though is the idea of sending Jack Eichel to Los Angeles. The appeal here is the fact that the Kings have top prospects in Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte, along with many others down the middle for Buffalo to acquire in return. But Quinton Byfield may be untouchable, even for Eichel (with injury concerns), and do the Kings really want to pay north of ten million to three players for the next couple years along with Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty? That doesn't sound like a plan that works in a cap era NHL for a rebuilding, even though it's only for a couple years until Kopitar's contract expires.
The Kings want to take the next step, and they may very well be a much better fit for Sam Reinhart, as they need a goal scoring winger for their top line. He’s also cheaper, both on the cap, and the cost to acquire him. Another less talked about destination for Jack Eichel however, could be the Calgary Flames, a team that was in the King's Pacific division two years ago. Calgary has the 5th best odds to acquire Eichel according to bettors, and they do have the pieces to make it happen.
Is it possible that the Sabres can send both Eichel and Reinhart out west next season? We’ll look at some trade ideas for both players, which also involves the Seattle Kraken and the expansion draft in a potential three team scenario.
Calgary Deal: Sabres acquire Matthew Tkachuk, Connor Zary, Yan Kuznetsov, Milan Lucic, a 2021 First round pick (13th OA), and a 2022 Second round pick from the Calgary Flames for Jack Eichel.
Calgary is very underrated as a potential trade partner and initially, it looks like they wouldn’t have the pieces to acquire him on the level that the Kings and Rangers do. But the reality is, they do, and they can put together a solid package for Jack Eichel. The only problem with Calgary is that they don't have a wide scope of options that the Kings or Rangers do. Both these teams have several different combinations of assets that can be places in a trade package. On the other hand, Calgary is not quite as deep, and is only looking at such a trade to shake up their core. If Calgary does acquire Eichel, it certainly will make Johnny Hockey quite happy.
Here the Sabres give themselves a major identity change, which could be a major appeal for making the trade.. Acquiring Tkachuk gives them a brand new face of the franchise, and he also gives them a gritty, tough forward up front that they have been lacking for quite some time. Connor Zary also comes the other way as a former first round pick who helps the Sabres depth down the middle. He could compete for a roster spot as early as next year.
The expansion draft is also taken into consideration here, as well as the cap space. Milan Lucic is included to make it work financially for Calgary. Lucic has a no-trade clause, and it’s very likely Buffalo is on the list. But could he agree to move to the Seattle Kraken in an additional trade where Buffalo retains half is salary for two years? Seattle is close to where he grew up in Vancouver, he may agree to waive his no trade clause to make the move happen.
The Sabres also acquired the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, which will be traded the next trade that we will discuss.
This trade ultimately puts both of the top two first round picks in the 2015 NHL draft in the same division making the Battle of Alberta more intriguing with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
Los Angeles Deal: Sabres acquire Rasmus Kupari, Akil Thomas, Kurtis McDermaid, and a conditional protected 2022 First or Second round pick, a 2021 Second round pick (40th OA), and the 8th overall selection in the 2021 NHL Draft for Sam Reinhart and the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft (acquired via CGY)
Typically, players in Sam Reinhart’s situation fetch about three to four pieces in a deal. When Ryan O’Reilly was traded to Buffalo, one year before his UFA year, he fetched J.T Compher, Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, and a high second round pick. Taylor Hall in his UFA year fetched Nick Merkley, Kevin Bahl, a first round pick, and a conditional third which could have been upgraded to as high as a first or second round pick.
Here Buffalo makes a blockbuster of a deal, and it’s pretty much coordinated with the Jack Eichel trade. In this scenario, it is assumed that Reinhart will sign an extension in LA, and that's a key point for the value. If Los Angeles is confident that they can sign Reinhart to an extension, they may be willing to pay a little more. If they are unable to sign him, the pick would become a 2022 second rounder, but the Sabres would at least still receive two quality young players with upside, a top 40 pick in this years draft, and move up back into the top ten of the draft. The first round pick is also contingent on the Kings making the playoffs with Reinhart on the roster.
Many have talked about Los Angeles as the prime destination for Eichel, but in reality, the Kings consider it because he does make them a much better team, but at the Same time, Los Angeles doesn’t really need him that badly either. They have bigger needs for a goal scoring right wing, and a top four left shot defenseman. They also may be hesitant to trade for a guy that will give them three players making north of ten million a season. The Kings could move Johnathan Quick to alleviate some of the salary cap pressure, but i'm not hopeful that the Kings would do that to one of the greatest players in franchise history, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if Quick retired if he were traded here.
For the Kings, Sam Reinhart makes a ton of sense for them. The price for Reinhart will be quite high as I am guessing that teams that can’t afford or miss out on Jack Eichel, or a top UFA like Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, will likely look to Reinhart. I also believe that Don Granato playing Reinhart at center was very smart, because it only makes the case for Reinhart being more valuable with that kind of versatility. Teams who are deprived down the middle may look to Reinhart as an intriguing option, although in this scenario, if Calgary acquires Eichel, it's possible that Sean Monahan is more readily available that he was in previous years if they didn't want to keep him as a number two center.
The Sabres get creative here and use Sam Reinhart to move up into the top ten of the draft, where they send Calgary’s 13th overall pick to Los Angeles for the 8th overall pick. They also pick up two NHL ready prospects who have quality potential. Rasmus Kupari is a 21-year old centerman who is immensely talented with top six potential. In Los Angeles, he seems to get lost in the shuffle among some of the Kings better center prospects in Alex Turcotte and Quinton Byfield, but make no mistake, he’s a solid prospect.
The Sabres also acquired a very underrated prospect in Akil Thomas. Thomas is another 21-year old center prospect who is buried behind more talented center prospects in the Kings organization. He could challenge for a third line center spot as early as next season, and he is very close to being NHL ready.
Kurtis McDermaid is a bottom pair/ seventh defenseman type who can also kill penalties and can act as the Sabres enforcer. He’s one of the better fighters in the league, and helps contribute to the Sabres need for more of a physical response in games when needed.
With the 8th overall selection, the Sabres could target Michigan F Kent Johnson, which could even be more appealing if the team selects Matthew Berniers in the draft, giving the Sabres a tandem of University of Michigan forwards and keeping Berniers and Johnson together for years to come. If Kent Johnson is the target, he could spend one more year at the University of Michigan on a stacked team.
Seattle Deal: Sabres trade Milan Lucic (50% retained) and a 2021 fourth round pick to the Seattle Kraken in exchange for an agreement to select Colin Miller in the expansion draft.
The third part of this three team scenario includes sending Milan Lucic to the Pacific Northwest close to his hometown in the Vancouver area, which would likely be the only reason he waives his no-trade clause in the Calgary deal to begin with. I personally wouldn't mind having Lucic here, but the reality is, there is a very slim chance he would want to waive his no-trade clause to play in Buffalo.
Here Buffalo agrees to retain part of his salary to send him to Seattle in exchange for an agreement to select Colin Miller in the expansion draft, and a draft pick. This deal benefits Calgary as they get to take money off their books to take on the Eichel contract, and Seattle gets a veteran defenseman with expansion team experience, making Colin Miller the new Andrew Brunette.
From Captain Jack to Captain Rasmus? What to do With Rasmus Ristolainen?
The Sabres will need to have strengths somewhere on the team and it’s possible that it’s on defense. If the defense is fully healthy next year and If Jake McCabe returns, he could form a very formidable tandem with Ristolainen on the top pair. These two were off to a hot start before McCabe went down to injury.
There are many shortfalls in Ristolainen’s game, but at the end of the day, his intensity and work ethic on the team is unmatched. He’s a leader in the locker room as well. In hindsight, the Sabres handing the "C" to Jack Eichel probably represents everything wrong with the team, and if Eichel is gone, the Sabres need to change that mentality. Ristolainen has earned the "C", and if he is still here, he should be the next captain.
His value will likely not fetch a return that is astronomical and they may struggle to get a first rounder for him. The best thing to do here is to hold on to him, and use him as a key veteran leader on the team. See how the 2021-22 season plays out, and then trade him at the 2022 deadline if the season goes south.
Either way with Ristolainen on the roster, the Sabres could have a solid defense next year with Ristolainen and McCabe on the top pair, and Dahlin with Jokiharju on the second pair. If the Sabres draft a defenseman like Owen Power, it’s possible he competes right away for a roster spot. I wouldn’t be stunned to see the Sabres acquire a veteran defenseman in free agency like Alec Martinez to help bring the younger guys along like Will Borgen, Mattias Samuelson, and Jacob Bryson.
Conclusion: A Summary of the Pieces Acquired for Reinhart and Eichel
The Sabres finish off with nine pieces here including: LW Matthew Tkachuk, C Connor Zary, C Rasmus Kupari, C Akil Thomas, D Yan Kuznetsov, D Kurtis McDermaid, 8th overall pick in 2021, 40th overall in 2021, a conditional top ten protected 2022 first round pick.
The Sabres have plenty of organizational depth down the middle with the additions of Zary, Kupari, and Thomas to their system. They will be added to a group that includes Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt. If the Sabres do trade Eichel, it would not be stunning to see the team draft Matthew Berniers to help add more depth down the middle and would give the Sabres six high quality options at center.
All the Sabres need to do now is find one more player named Rasmus so they can be the first team in NHL history to trot out five guys named Rasmus (Asplund, Ristolainen, Dahlin, Kupari?).
In all seriousness, It may take the Sabres a couple years to start to see some of the benefits of the trades, but the Rochester Americans could be major beneficiaries right away. Connor Zary could start next season there and would be a fine center to develop with Jack Quinn. Akil Thomas could also end up there as well to start the season if he doesn’t make the Sabres out of camp. The future could look bright in a couple years.
A glimpse two years into the future could give you lines up front such as:
Kent Johnson-Matthew Berniers-Jack Quinn
Matthew Tkachuk-Casey Mittelstadt-Rasmus Kupari
Connor Zary-Dylan Cozens-Akil Thomas
These are all assets acquired before the Sabres used any of their 2022 or 2023 draft assets. Maybe Victor Olafsson remains here in a couple years as a power play specialist, and maybe Jeff Skinner revives his career? There will also probably be some free agent additions and trades as well to supplement the roster. All of a sudden, you're a deep organization.
The good news is that some of the players acquired here are close to NHL ready with Kupari and Thomas to add with an established Matthew Tkachuk, and in another year, the team could have Connor Zary on the roster as well. The team also has a load of draft capital with potentially four first rounders over the next two years, as well as three second rounders in 2021, and two second rounders in 2022.
At the end of the day, trading Eichel and Reinhart is not the worst thing to happen to the franchise. If this is done right, the Sabres can set themselves up for success for years to come. The problem is however, can Kevyn Adams be trusted to be the GM making this decision? He’s an inexperienced GM, and many teams will attempt to fleece him. Hopefully Jason Karmanos makes the impact needed in the front office as his right hand man. As we know from experience, the wrong GM could be disastrous in a rebuild.