Sorry Bruins fans, a Jack Eichel trade in 2021 was always a long shot


The Jack Eichel trade saga is finally over.

The Buffalo Sabres dealt the superstar center and a 2023 third-round draft pick to the Vegas Golden Knights for Alex Tuch, top prospect Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 third-rounder, the teams announced Sunday morning.

TSN's Darren Dreger reported that "The expectation is Eichel will have disc replacement surgery very soon. Recovery time varies. Everyone hopeful he will be back on the ice in four months."

This trade is a sad sight for fans in the New England region who were hoping Eichel, who's from North Chelmsford, Mass., and played at Boston University, would come home and help lead a new generation of Bruins stars.

It would have been great for the B's, too, given their desperate need for another top-six center with David Krejci recently leaving the team and Patrice Bergeron in the final year of his contract at 36 years old.

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But the chances of him actually coming to Boston in 2021 were always slim. 

For starters, why on Earth would the Sabres trade him to a division rival unless Boston really overpaid? It's quite hard to imagine the Bruins getting Eichel for the return Vegas sent to Buffalo.

The best trade chips the Bruins have on their NHL roster are No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy and superstar right winger David Pastrnak. Trading either player for Eichel, who has a serious neck injury, made absolutely no sense.

The Bruins also didn't have any elite prospects to dangle for Eichel. The Athletic's Corey Pronman rated the B's 29th out of 32 teams in his latest prospect pipeline rankings in September.

It's tough to envision the Sabres being excited about defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, the Bruins' 2017 first-round pick who still can't crack the NHL roster full time. Boston's 2019 first-rounder, center John Beecher, battled injury last season and wasn't exactly dominating at Michigan before that. Boston's 2021 first-rounder, Fabian Lysell, has a very bright future. But he's a winger, not a center like Eichel. The Bruins didn't make a first-round selection in 2018 and 2020 because those picks were traded.

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Jack Studnicka could potentially become a reliable middle-six center, but he also hasn't earned a regular role with the Bruins over the last two years. Tuch is a better player than Studnicka right now. Krebs is a top-tier prospect who could be the Sabres' No. 1 center for a long time. The Bruins don't have a prospect at that position with similar potential/talent.

Would a package of Lysell, defenseman Brandon Carlo and multiple draft picks have enticed Buffalo to move Eichel to a division rival such as Boston? Probably not, and we don't even know if the Bruins would ever have offered that much for an injured player.

Many other teams, including the Golden Knights, had the ability to put together better packages of prospects, young NHLers and draft picks than the Bruins. The Sabres need future assets for their rebuild, and the Bruins' cupboard is pretty bare.

Salary, like always, is a factor as well.

Eichel has a $10 million salary cap hit through the 2025-26 campaign, and it appears the Sabres were intent on not retaining any salary in this trade with the Golden Knights. McAvoy is making close to $10 million on his new extension. Pastrnak's current deal expires after the 2022-23 season and he could easily be Boston's first ever $10 million per year player in his next contract.

The Bruins also have Brad Marchand ($6.125 million cap hit), Taylor Hall ($6 million cap hit), Charlie Coyle ($5.25 million cap hit), Brandon Carlo ($4.1 million cap hit) and Linus Ullmark ($5 million cap hit) all signed through at least 2024-25. Bergeron needs a new contract beyond this season.

The salary cap isn't expected to go up much in the short term due to the revenue lost during the pandemic. There would've been some salary cap hoops for the Bruins to jump through to make adding Eichel work out.

The Knights are about $7 million over the salary cap when all of their players are healthy, so they will need to make another move (or multiple) to get cap compliant when Eichel is ready to return.

The other major question mark is health. According to ESPN's Emily Kaplan, "a disk replacement has never been performed on an NHL player." What if Eichel is not the same player after his surgery? In that scenario, you've given up significant assets for a player making a ton of money and potentially no longer able to play at a top level. It would be a horrendous situation for the Bruins and set them back quite a bit. 

Eichel still could someday play for the Bruins. Maybe it doesn't work out in Vegas and another trade happens at some point. He's also able to become an unrestricted free agent in 2026.

But when you look at all the obstacles/concerns noted above, it's not a surprise the Bruins were never rumored to be one of the most interested teams throughout the Eichel sweepstakes.

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