One name that was no doubt thrown around in every NHL front office this past week: Jack Eichel.
When one of the best players in the league once again publicizes his displeasure with his situation and his “disconnect” with the brass — and makes it clear that he might play in Buffalo, but he might also play elsewhere — that’s going to get other management types talking.
Such discussions likely happened on Guest Street in Brighton, a mile and a half from where a curly-haired 18-year-old tore it up for one season on Comm. Ave. (Boston University, 2014-15).
Given his comments last Monday, and in prior break-up days that have started to feel like Groundhog Days, Eichel is fed up with losing. His words (“For now, obviously I’m here”) are those of a player who wants out. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney, who noted this past week he has “ongoing conversations” about their teams with each of his 31 colleagues, gabbed enough with the Sabres’ Kevyn Adams to pull off the Taylor Hall blockbuster in February. It’s conceivable the topic of Adams’s long-discontented captain might have come up.
Turning talk into trade, when it comes to a potential Eichel-to-Boston deal, is another matter.
Can the Bruins afford the cost of one of the game’s premier centers? From a cap-space perspective, sure. The 24-year-old Eichel has been hurt much of this season, but is paid like a player who put up 36 goals and 78 points in 68 games last season on a struggling team. He carries a $10 million hit for the next six years.
One way to afford him: let unrestricted free agents David Krejci ($7.25 million), Jaroslav Halak ($2.25 million), and Sean Kuraly ($1.275 million) walk, which would free up $10.775 million in cap space. That’s without considering a Hall extension, and other UFAs (Mike Reilly, due a raise on his $1.5 million AAV). The Bruins will also shed David Backes’s $1.5 million retained cap hit this summer. Money doesn’t have to be the holdup.
Do they have a need for Eichel? Certainly not at this moment. The Capitals entered Saturday’s Game 1 against the Bruins trying to find ways to stop Patrice Bergeron’s line and the Hall-Krejci-Craig Smith connection, both firing with equal fury. Imagine if that continues this postseason, Krejci takes a haircut ($5 million on a short-term deal) and Hall falls a bit behind Brad Marchand ($6.125 million) on the salary scale. That’s one formidable top six entering 2021-22.
Given the ages of Bergeron (36 in July) and Krejci (35) and their mileage, it wouldn’t last forever. Bergeron’s contract expires after next season. Krejci, if he returns, could be year to year. Bringing in a 24-year-old, all-world talent from North Chelmsford, and showing him how Bergeron and Marchand operate (see: Hall, Taylor), could be ideal.
Whether they want to ante up for Eichel, the Bruins do need centers. Team president Cam Neely acknowledged this past week the organization was “a little thin in depth in that position where we have to address that. That’s a position we’d like to stock up on going forward.”
The Bruins believe top prospect Jack Studnicka, 22, will be an effective NHL pivot. But even in an uneven, COVID-19-altered second pro season, he didn’t pop (1 goal, 9 assists in 31 games between Boston and Providence).
“I think there’s work to be done,” Sweeney said of Studnicka. “I think Jack knows that . . . He’s motivated to become a better hockey player, a more complete hockey player. He’s got some physical maturity that he has to continue to go through, and he’s committed to doing that.”
Come the July draft, the most likely time for an Eichel trade, will the Bruins be willing to pay the price for a top-10 talent? There’s the toughest question.
Adams, hamstrung by Hall’s no-move clause and desire to come to Boston, would not want to punt again, certainly not to the same divisional opponent, especially when he has the leverage of Eichel being under contract. In this scenario, it would be good business to ask for David Pastrnak or Charlie McAvoy.
Neither is anywhere near expendable. But if the Bruins wanted Eichel and those were the choices, parting with Pastrnak seems more reasonable than McAvoy. Finding an elite winger is easier than landing a do-it-all defensemen (or game-changing center). It would be painful to try to replace Pastrnak’s dynamic blend of offensive skills (not to mention his charisma), but the Bruins would still have elite forward pairs with Marchand-Bergeron and Hall-Eichel. They wouldn’t have anyone who matches McAvoy’s three-zone effectiveness.
Sweeney would prefer the conversation move beyond those two — and ideally, not linger too long on Jeremy Swayman — but that’s where the talks would have to begin.
Eichel’s injury, a herniated disk in his neck, is a complicating factor. Eichel wants a surgery — an artificial disk replacement — that, the Sabres contend, has not been done on an NHL player. They believe their franchise player will be OK with a conservative rehab. This is a rift that may not be repairable.
“My No. 1 interest,” Eichel said, “is Jack Eichel. You gotta look after yourself. You gotta look after what you think is best for yourself, and the organization has a similar job to do — it’s to look after what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres.”
He has six years left on his contract. The Sabres’ options will be limited by his no-move clause that kicks in after next season. Until then, both sides can wait until the player is healthy — however that happens — so Adams can get greater value.
Or, Eichel could keep the pressure on, trying to force his way into a better situation. He’s seen enough losing: six years, three GMs, zero playoff appearances. He has every right to be upset. He has one hockey career.
It may be time for both parties to move on. The Bruins will be listening.
TIME TO CHANGE
For 15 teams, next year has started
For the first time in 42 years, we’re about to witness a Montreal-Toronto playoff series. For the Maple Leafs, who haven’t beaten the Canadiens in a playoff year since their hallowed 1967 run, exorcising their bleu, blanc, et rouge demons would be the perfect way to start a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Just ask the Bruins of 1988 and 2011.
But that’s all fodder for the next few weeks. While we’re also eagerly anticipating the Battle of Florida, watching Connor McDavid against the Jets, and Kirill Kaprizov against Vegas, a few offseason thoughts on some of the DNQs:
▪ Columbus Blue Jackets — Seth Jones, the big blue liner, is entering the final year of his deal, and he has been noncommittal about an extension. The Blue Jackets don’t have a captain after flipping Nick Foligno to Toronto, and Jones would like the “C.” But he also wants to win. Will GM Jarmo Kekäläinen move him while his value is highest, or let him play out his final year (a la Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky in 2019)?
The Sabres seem like a good trading partner, even if Jack Eichel isn’t involved. Columbus needs a No. 1 center. Could Jones, who was once traded for a big-money pivot (Nashville’s Ryan Johansen), be a piece in an Eichel deal? Buffalo needs netminders, and Kekäläinen has a pair (Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo) who reach UFA status after next season. Would the Sabres give up Sam Reinhart, who’s also reportedly disgruntled in the 716?
Speaking of trade assets: Let’s hope the next Columbus coach can unlock Patrik Laine. The pouting Finnish sniper scored 10 goals in 45 games, not good enough for a one-dimensional player. Laine wasn’t the only player who found himself in John Tortorella’s doghouse. Remember Max Domi? Maybe he and Laine would succeed with a young, run-and-gun guy behind the bench. Or maybe Laine — and two of the three first-round picks Columbus owns — will be on the move again.
▪ Anaheim Ducks — Unless netminder John Gibson was going to be Superman — and by his standards, he wasn’t — the Ducks were bound for the basement this year. The attack was anemic (NHL-low 2.21 goals per game and 8.94 percent on the power play) and their defense scares no one. Mainstays Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell are entering the last years of their contracts. Should they flip them for futures, further stocking up around Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, and push things down the road? GM Bob Murray, 66, enters his 14th season. What’s his appetite for a rebuild? They’re not as well stocked as the Kings, their rivals north on I-5. They shouldn’t push quite yet.
▪ Arizona Coyotes — Similar to Anaheim but additionally, looking for a coach. No first-round and third-round draft picks this year because of the John Chayka mess, and few Grade-A talents (though Jakob Chychrun may earn a few down-ballot Norris votes). Maybe Oliver Ekman-Larsson bounces back. But all in all, this is a team that might be smart to strip down. The Coyotes don’t seem to have the pieces to deal for Eichel (Clayton Keller isn’t getting it done) and other than the weather, he wouldn’t be improving his situation by leaps and bounds.
▪ Calgary Flames — Another possible Eichel fit, if the Sabres wanted to bring Matthew Tkachuk to tangle with brother Brady in the Atlantic. Sam Bennett, unearthed by the Panthers, had 15 points in 10 games after the trade to Florida. The No. 4 overall pick in 2014 had 12 points in Calgary this year, and 12 points last season. At least the Flames got a second-rounder and a second-round prospect (Emil Heineman) for him.
▪ Chicago Blackhawks — They went in with no goaltending, lost Jonathan Toews for the year, and it’s unclear if Jeremy Colliton is the answer as coach. The Blackhawks continue to be porous defensively; no team allowed more expected goals at five on five (116.09).
It wasn’t all bad. Alex DeBrincat scored at a 50-goal pace, Kevin Lankinen earned early Calder consideration before he burned out, and a lot of solid young players continued to develop. Oh, and 32-year-old Patrick Kane (15-51—66 in 56 games) isn’t slowing down.
I don’t think the Blackhawks are far off. A solid season, given that they were in the playoff race until the final month. Getting Toews back — no sure thing — would go a long way.
▪ Los Angeles Kings — We have another trade to discuss. Jake DeBrusk could benefit from a change in scenery, particularly if Taylor Hall extends his stay and pushes him further down the Bruins’ left wing depth chart. The Kings have arguably the deepest prospect pool, with plenty of centers.
If the Bruins aren’t taking a swing at Eichel, why not discuss DeBrusk for a center prospect who’s not far away? They’re not getting Quinton Byfield, but what about a deal involving Tyler Madden, the clever Northeastern product who spent this year with the farm club in Ontario, Calif.?
Los Angeles can afford to lose a center as it rebuilds and a talented winger such as DeBrusk would fit right in — a fresh start, plenty of ice time, and a scoring role under a fellow WHL guy in Todd McLellan, who knows the DeBrusks from his time coaching Edmonton.
▪ Dallas Stars — Brutal year for the defending Western Conference champs. Because of a COVID-19 outbreak in January (17 players tested positive), and the state power grid failing because of February storms, they had to play their 56 games in 108 days. They hardly saw Tyler Seguin (three games) and Alex Radulov (11). And yet they missed the playoffs by 4 points, the slimmest margin in the league. A bright spot: Jason Robertson nudging his way into the Calder Trophy discussion.
▪ New York Rangers — A lot of veteran coaches on the market, from Bruce Boudreau to Gerard Gallant to Claude Julien. Of course, Tortorella checks the boxes, and he has his fans in the organization (James Dolan, for one). Would Torts and Eichel, two Mass. guys, get along?
▪ Philadelphia Flyers — Teams scored in bunches (league-worst 3.52 goals against average), and the two netminders with the league’s lowest goals saved above average (per Natural Stat Trick) wore the same uniform. Carter Hart was 97th and Brian Elliott was 96th. Fixing Hart, 22, will be Job No. 1 this offseason.
▪ San Jose Sharks — The best thing that happened to the Sharks this year might have been Patrick Marleau bringing his presence back to the Bay Area, and setting the record for NHL games (1,779 at the end of this season). At the request of Gordie Howe’s family, the Hockey Hall of Fame presented Marleau with the stick Howe used to score his last goal, and play in his last game, in the 1980 playoffs against Montreal.
Gretzky trade still being felt 33 years later
Drake Rymsha, a Los Angeles fourth-round pick in 2017, made his NHL debut Thursday. He’s a 22-year-old forward who had some good years in the OHL, but he’s not considered one of the Kings’ top prospects.
To date, Rymsha is most notable for being part of the Wayne Gretzky trade tree.
Yes, the one that took place a full decade before he was born.
The players in the 1988 trade have long since retired. To review the basics: Los Angeles got Gretzky, now 60, Mike Krushelnyski, and Marty McSorley, while Edmonton landed Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks, and $15 million.
According to Sportsnet, the Oilers and Kings’ subsequent trades of those eight players — five NHLers and three picks — added up to 54 deals. The Oilers’ branches have died off, but the Kings’ side lives on.
The McSorley branch, strengthened by the Mattias Norstrom (2007) and Dustin Penner (2011) trades, has left two budding players under contract with the Kings. Rymsha and OHL defenseman Markus Phillips can trace their LA lineage to the Great One, 33 years later.
Patrick Marleau’s longtime running mate in San Jose, Joe Thornton, enters the playoffs as the oldest player (42 in July) without a Stanley Cup title. His Maple Leafs have two of the four oldest players (Jason Spezza, 38 in June, is also wanting). Other graybeards who would be at the front of the line to raise it: Islanders vet Andy Greene, 38; Calgary captain Mark Giordano, 37; and Minnesota’s Ryan Suter, 36 . . . The Lightning likely reached an NHL first Monday by starting Daniel Walcott, Mathieu Joseph, and Gemel Smith, believed to be the league’s first all-Black line. “A step in the right direction,” Joseph said. The Kings used an all-Black line earlier this season, but in the AHL (Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield, and Devante Smith-Pelly) . . . Strange to see the AHL Pacific holding a playoff tournament while the other four divisions are done. With no Calder Cup at stake, and reportedly no playoff compensation, what’s to gain? . . . Nice sendoff Monday in Nashville for Pekka Rinne, who pitched his 60th career shutout against Carolina in what could be his final game . . . Former Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart, drafted 21st overall in 2003, rejoined his alma mater, Colorado College, as an assistant coach. Stuart began his coaching career last season, as a volunteer assistant at Vermont. He was shipped to Atlanta with Blake Wheeler in February 2011, in a deal that brought Rich Peverley to Boston . . . Ottawa rookie Tim Stützle produced his first hat trick in an empty building, but this past week his backyard neighbor, Andrew Morrissey, organized about 15 youngsters to toss hats into the yard of the apartment Stützle shares with Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk. The kids are all right.