It finally happened! The Buffalo Sabres agreed to trade their disgruntled superstar centerman Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for top prospect Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a 2022 conditional 1st round pick, as well as a 2023 conditional 2nd round pick. If the 2022 1st given by Vegas falls within the top ten, Vegas will transfer their 2023 1st round pick to the Sabres (unprotected) instead. If the 2022 Vegas 1st round pick is a top ten pick, Vegas will transfer their 2024 2nd round pick instead. As part of this trade, Vegas also receives a conditional 3rd round pick. If Vegas’ 1st round pick in 2022 is a top ten pick, Buffalo will transfer their 2024 3rd round pick instead. The Sabres also acquired the contract of Johnny Boychuk from the New York Islanders in exchange for future considerations for the purpose of cap compliance. All information pertaining to these conditions are courtesy of the great people at CapFriendly.com.
Before we discuss our thoughts and analysis of this blockbuster deal, perhaps one of the biggest trades in recent NHL history, we will provide some necessary background information that is essential for understanding how we got to today in the first place. The events of the timeline provided in this article are outlined in Wajih AlBaroudi’s Jack Eichel saga explained article on CBS Sports (Jack Eichel, Sabres saga explained: How a medical disagreement led to the star’s trade to Vegas – CBSSports.com). On March 7th, 2021, Jack Eichel herniated a disk in his neck during a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders. This was the team’s seventh straight loss, and the team proceeded to eventually lose eighteen straight following the Eichel injury. Eichel was ruled out for the season on April 14th and finished at a near point-per-game with eighteen points (two goals, sixteen assists) in twenty-one games. He finished with a -3.57 individual AB score in 2020-21, one year removed from registering his best individual AB score of his career in 2019-20 with a +4.55. In his six-year NHL career, Eichel is a -3.60 Career AB player, which we believe will substantially improve in Vegas as we will explain later in the article. On April 15th, Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams announced that Eichel wouldn’t get surgery right away, as there was a chance the disc would move back into place on its own after enough rehab and time. However, obviously this wasn’t the case, as on May 10th, the Sabres acknowledged Eichel need surgery, and elected that he gets a fusion surgery as opposed to the disk replacement surgery his representation suggested. According to the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, the team has final say over player’s injury recoveries, making it impossible for Eichel to get his desired surgery without breaking the terms of his contract. The reason why the Sabres were so persistent on Eichel getting a fusion surgery is because the artificial disk replacement is a surgery that has never been done on a professional hockey player before, despite the fact it had been done on other athletes across the professional sports world. Three months ago, Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek had a neurosurgeon named Dr. Chad Prusmack on their podcast, 32 Thoughts to discuss the pros and cons of each surgery and give a unique perspective of the situation from a doctor’s point of view. The link to that podcast is included here (Why Eichel Wants a Disc Replacement | Podcasts – Sportsnet.ca). On August 27th, Eichel hired new representation in CAA’s Pat Brisson, in hopes to accelerate a decision. About a month later, on September 23rd, Jack Eichel failed his physical with the Sabres (as expected) and would begin the season on IR. As a result of this, Eichel was stripped of his captaincy which has yet to be reassigned to another player by the team. And finally, yesterday, on November 4th, Eichel was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights for the package previously discussed, putting an end to the drama once and for all. Eichel is expected to get surgery later next week, as Golden Knights Management is allowing him to get his preferred artificial disk replacement surgery. The handling of this situation will certainly be a topic of discussion during the next CBA negotiations, as this was surely an eye opener for the players.
Now, with all the backstory out of the way, let us discuss our thoughts on the trade. Buffalo’s rumored asking price throughout this whole process was the equivalent of four first round assets (picks or players). They ended up with three here, without any salary retention, which we believe is just as valuable as another first round asset especially in today’s hard cap league. It’s hard to put a price tag on the exact value of cap space today, but we believe the extra flexibility is going to be useful for the Sabres in their attempts to make more trades during the remainder of the season, as well as for the foreseeable future. The acquisition of Johnny Boychuk from the New York Islanders balanced the money out for this year and will come off the books at seasons end creating that flexibility we discussed for the 2021 offseason. Currently, the Buffalo Sabres have $15.188 million in cap space, and are six million dollars over the NHL’s salary floor of $60.24m. At the beginning of the 2021 offseason, the Sabres will have a whopping $42,209,166 million in cap space, one of the bigger amounts in the league. In terms of the tangible assets the Sabres received in this trade, the first round pick (granted it isn’t top ten) would be Buffalo’s third first rounder this draft, in addition to their own plus Florida’s in the Sam Reinhart deal. That pick is also top ten protected; however it is reasonable to assume that it won’t fall in that range given the Panthers’ 9-0-1 start to the season. This would mean the Sabres will have used five first round picks in two drafts, which we believe is exceptional work from Kevyn Adams and the rest of Sabres management.
Moving on to the players included in the trade, Alex Tuch is a native of upstate New York, as he was born in Syracuse. He played his college hockey at Boston College and was selected 18th overall in the 2014 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild. He was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the 2017 Expansion draft. In the Golden Knights’ inaugural season, Tuch scored fifteen goals with twenty-two assists for thirty-seven points in seventy-eight games, and also was a .5 point-per-game player for the Golden Knights in the playoffs en route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. In the following season, Tuch scored a career-high twenty goals with thirty-two assists for a career-high fifty two points. In the two shortened seasons, Tuch played a combined ninety-seven regular season games in which he scored twenty-six goals with twenty-four assists for fifty points. Last season (2020-21), he registered his best individual AB score of his career at +8.78, topping his previous best +7.74 score in 2018-19. Career-wise, in four seasons of data, Tuch is a +3.94 career AB player with only one negative score registered to date. We believe he is going to be a solid addition to Buffalo’s top-six forward group following his return from injury. Tuch is also under contract until 2026-27 with a reasonable cap hit of $4.75m. He is still just twenty-five years old, and will be thirty at the expiration of his contract. In Kevyn Adams’ press conference following the trade, he mentioned that “We need to build this organization with people that are dying to be Buffalo Sabres, that care so much about that jersey they are about to put on”. He appears to be off to a good start with this decision, as Adams also mentioned how Tuch told him it was a “dream come true” for him.
Multiple sources around the NHL have mentioned several times that Peyton Krebs was the centerpiece of this trade, and this deal doesn’t get done without him. Kevyn Adams discussed how important it was for the Sabres to target young players that are going to fit what they are trying to build in Buffalo moving forward. Adams said, “He has a lot of what we were looking for in terms of the way he plays the game, his approach, his on-ice approach, his off-ice approach, his character, and his leadership qualities.” It also doesn’t hurt that Krebs was a teammate of Sabres center Dylan Cozens with Team Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championships, in which they fell in the Gold Medal Game to Team USA. In 199 career games played with the Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice, Peyton Krebs scored 62 goals and registered 169 assists for 231 points (1.16 PPG). According to our Junior Hockey Analysis, the average career AB score of a player from the Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice organization is a decent -1.68, and it will be interesting to see if he meets that projection. Regardless, he instantly becomes one of the Sabres most dynamic prospects, joining 1st overall pick Owen Power, former top ten pick Jack Quinn, recent 14th overall pick Isak Rosen, talented young goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, and German winger JJ Peterka as one of the best farm systems in the NHL. This talent is on full display with the Sabres AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, as they are already off to a hot start. They are currently 5-2, and are first place in the AHL’s North Division, with second place Utica having three games in hand. Utica just lost their best player in Alexander Holtz due to a call-up from the New Jersey Devils earlier this week, which makes it even more interesting in Rochester. This is a team we will be following very closely, as we are with the University of Michigan for Owen Power. We are fascinated by this Sabres youth movement, and believe the assets acquired in this deal will only add to their strong start to this new rebuild.
While we like Buffalo’s return, there is no question in our minds that Vegas acquired a superstar in this league at a substantial discount due to his injury and Buffalo’s unwillingness to retain salary. In 375 games with the Buffalo Sabres, Jack Eichel scored 139 goals and registered 216 assists for 355 points. The Sabres failed to make the playoffs in all of Eichel’s six seasons with the club, which again was part of the reason why this article is even written. As we mentioned before, Eichel is a -3.60 career AB player with only one positive season registered during his six-year career. However, we believe this is going to change substantially immediately upon arrival in Vegas. The argument that players get better after they leave Buffalo can be confirmed with our AB model, as we can provide multiple examples of this truth by looking at our career AB trajectories. In the case of Evander Kane, his individual scores doubled in the wrong direction consistently over the course of his transition from Winnipeg to Buffalo, as he registered a -3.47 score in his final season with the Jets in 2014-15, a -7 score in his first season in Buffalo in 2015-16, and then a -14.09 score in his final season in Buffalo during the 2016-17 year. Upon arrival in San Jose, Kane registered a -5.64 score. Although this is still below average, it was still a +8.45 improvement from his previous year in Buffalo and was his highest registered score since his 2014-15 season in Winnipeg where he registered a -3.47 score as we mentioned. In the case of Ryan O’Reilly, he was consistently a positive AB player as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, as he had a +2.03 career AB score in six seasons with the club, registering only one negative score in that time span. In O’Reilly’s first season with Buffalo in 2015-16, he registered a -6.01 score, which is a -6.6 swing from his +0.59 score in his last year with the Avalanche. In his last season with the Sabres, he registered a -8.34 score (that and the -6.01 score were the two worst of his career) which improved to a +14.75 after his trade to the St. Louis Blues, a swing of +23.09, one of the biggest single season improvements in the history of our metric. As we all know, O’Reilly was an integral part of St. Louis’ Stanley Cup Championship win, as he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs for the Blues. He has registered three consecutive +8 or higher AB scores since leaving the Sabres, two of which were higher than +13 seasons, which is among the best AB stretches of any player in the NHL over that time. We think that Jack Eichel, on a line with Max Pacioretty (+3.51 Career AB) and Mark Stone (+8.05 Career AB), that similar massive AB increases are coming. Another reason for this potential increase is the influence of Eichel’s new head coach in Vegas, Peter DeBoer. Peter DeBoer has an advantage percentage of 65%, meaning each time a player comes from a different team to play for him, his registered AB under DeBoer is better than his previous season with his former team 65% of the time. Among active NHL coaches, DeBoer’s 65% advantage percentage is the 2nd highest, as well as the T-6th highest in the overall study with Joel Quenneville. It’s reasonable to assume that will be the case here, as the average AB score of an American forward under DeBoer is +0.38, as he is one of the forty coaches with positive average scores with American forwards in our study.
The Golden Knights have constructed their Stanley Cup contending roster the opposite way of how people expected them too. Most teams superstars are acquired through the draft, however, their top players of Jack Eichel, Max Pacioretty, Mark Stone, Shea Theodore, and Robin Lehner, were all brought in through trades, and their best defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo was a free agent signing. This extreme desire to win the Stanley Cup is coming at the expense of a dry prospect cupboard, as they have traded each of their first four first round picks in franchise history (Cody Glass in the Nolan Patrick Trade, Erik Brannstrom in the Mark Stone Trade, Nick Suzuki in the Max Pacioretty Trade, and now Peyton Krebs in this Jack Eichel trade.) It’s a gamble, but one we believe will pay off for the Golden Knights come playoff time. We will be monitoring the situation closely and are looking forward to seeing one of the league’s best players hit the ice again for the first time in over a calendar year come next spring. Much more to come.