Whenever some big league-breaking trade or free agency acquisition happens, it’s completely natural to end up repeating, “but why not us?” And you can repeat it and repeat it all week long until you come to the realization that maybe it just wasn’t the right time. You start to live with the fact that that really good player just isn’t on your team, no matter how many jersey photoshops you witnessed.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, Jack Eichel was traded by the Buffalo Sabres to the Vegas Golden Knights in a fairly meh deal. The Knights sent along young solid forward Alex Tuch, top prospect Peyton Krebs, and some decent picks that don’t necessarily mean anything, getting the star centerman in return. After the initial thought of what trade value is and trying to rationalize this abstract concept put onto players, you are simply shocked that Eichel went for just some potential pieces and picks. But then again, Tuch is essentially the same age as Eichel, locked in for the same amount of years at half the cap hit, and Krebs is a very, very, very good prospect (as those geeks that watch teenagers play hockey keep on telling me). And there’s some picks too.
In my opinion of a trade that is just a mere couple hours old, this might be a fairly even swap for a team that was desperate to get rid of a dude that they have already done wrong by, by refusing his disc replacement surgery, and certainly didn’t want that financial commitment. Now you get someone that will compliment any top forward line and a guy that is reeking of potential offensive stud.
Anyway, this isn’t about those two teams; it’s about the Minnesota Wild — a team that was heavily linked to Eichel when rumors first started to swirl, and then when the ask got too heavy for them, backed out. Of course context is everything and if the Wild were still involved in it, I’m sure things would be different with teams competing for the rights to one of the best centers in the game if he’s healthy. But ignoring all the signs that this is a silly little exercise, what exactly would the equivalent of the package Vegas sent to Buffalo, be for the Wild?
Kevin Fiala is certainly Tuch’s Minnesota counterpart. They are around the same age, but Fiala is already getting paid more than Tuch and needs a new deal this summer. Meanwhile Tuch has that financial certainty that a team like the Sabres desperately crave. On the ice, Fiala is most likely the better player, with maybe Tuch being the ideal two-way guy and a weapon that can just simply bolster any offense, while Fiala can simply overpower another team via his offense, and has contributed on the penalty kill. With contractual context, it can be seen as close enough in value for the Sabres.
And when it comes to the prospect, Krebs can be seen as this trade’s version of Matt Boldy or Marco Rossi. High-end offensively-driven forwards that are in similar age ranges and is already making a statement in the AHL as a 20-year-old; one of those dudes (depending on your personal preference) is certainly good enough to consider the same in value. Maybe if you think the two Wild prospects are better (because they are ours) then you can move the picks to later rounds, but that is up to you, fantasy general manager.
All of this only matters if you think it was the right time to swoop in and snatch a top center like Eichel this season. With the news that he will be getting the disc replacement surgery he so wanted, and is expected to be back on the ice in approximately four months, the team acquiring him would at least get him in their colors for the postseason.
Should the Wild have really sacrificed some of their future for a player like Eichel? Give up someone that should be with the team for a long time and someone else that has the potential to completely change their offensive dynamic in the coming years? In my personal opinion, it would not be worth it at all. Eichel is a great piece to have, but completely tossing things at the wall and diverting from the developmental path to establish a solid core of young forwards, is maybe not worth it for a somewhat large question mark of a player that will be recovering from neck surgery.
The Wild right now are simply trying to stay competitive while they begin to graduate prospects and introduce them slowly into this system and this already playoff-bound roster. There are no expectations to be great and winning championships, but they are good enough to be a really fun team and perennially a “dark horse” candidate for analysts to chew the fat on.
I would much rather stick with the current team and gamble on prospects — that have been heralded as game-changers by very smart prospect people — than try and cash a lot of chips in for a guy that can get several more points in the standings. The context is different for these two teams, obviously. Vegas is in desperate win-now mode with every trade being throwing away picks and prospects for established guys on significant contracts that might just become multiple negative contributors in a couple years, because of that. Vegas taking a gamble is too on the nose of an analogy, but it works, and Minnesota just isn’t there right now to do the same thing. Maybe when another team wants to trade a Very Good Player in a couple years and all the prospects are firmly on the team with post-rookie contracts, then they can throw away some picks to go for it — but now is not the right time and there were simply too many factors and risks to take on Eichel for this team.
I’m comfortable with the fact that they backed out when they did.