Who Won the Jack Eichel Trade: Buffalo or Vegas?
The blockbuster trade that took place in November of 2021 has been hotly debated by many fans, but who actually won the trade? Now that both the Buffalo Sabres and Vegas Golden Knights are about to get a full season out of their returns from the deal, we can make a much better analysis.
Jack Eichel, the Consolation Prize?
Jack Eichel was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres 2nd overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. It was a controversial year for the Sabres and the NHL, as Buffalo was accused of tanking. Meaning, they tried to lose on purpose to get the 1st overall pick in the draft. While they accomplished their goal of having the worst record, that only gave them the best odds at the first pick as the NHL has a draft lottery system. It only guaranteed them the 2nd pick. Ultimately, the first pick went to the Edmonton Oilers when they won the lottery. They took who the Sabres, and everyone, wanted 1st Overall: Connor McDavid. McDavid has turned into an MVP, once-in-a-generation talent. This did not sit well with then Sabres general manager Tim Murray, who openly criticized the lottery system and was very upset. Ultimately, the Sabres took the second-best player on the board: Boston University Center Jack Eichel. Murray's comments allegedly didn't bother Eichel, but they certainly set the table for what was to come.
Eichel made the roster in Buffalo immediately, quickly was named captain, and spent 6 seasons with the Sabres. He was the face of the franchise. Everything they did revolved around him. He was productive, too. He lead the team in scoring multiple times and was one of the few things to come and see on the ice because, well, the team was not good.
The Neck Injury
Eichel injured his neck in March of 2021, herniating a disc. This ended his season and, ultimately, his career as a Sabre. The long and short of it was he wanted to have surgery done to replace the disc in his neck, versus traditional fusion surgery. This is what the Sabre wanted him to have. This disc replacement surgery had never been done on an NHL player before but has been done on many other people, and even athletes. The issue could not be resolved between Eichel and the team and led to a very public argument about a player's rights to their body. It should be noted that NHL players do not have the right to get any surgery they want, and their union had agreed to that. This is not to defend the Sabres or disparage Eichel, it's just the facts. The Buffalo Sabres stripped Eichel of his Captancey as they continued to argue about the surgery and Eichel remained out with the injury.
Buffalo Sabres Trade Jack Eichel to Vegas
An agreement about the surgery was never made between Eichel and the team. The damage was done, and a trade was agreed to. On November 4, 2021, the Buffalo Sabres traded Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights, along with a 3rd-round pick, in return for Forwards Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and 2 draft picks: a 2022 1st-round pick and a 2023 2nd-round pick. The 2022 1st round pick ended up being highly-rated forward Noah Östlund. Vegas allowed Eichel to get the neck surgery he wanted, which was successful. He has been healthy ever since.
Buffalo's Other Jack Eichel Problems
When you look at the overall media, fan, and rumour mill surrounding Eichel's time in Buffalo, the issues Jack had here were not just neck related. Eichel was a very talented player, but allegedly a lousy captain. The team remains in the midst of the longest playoff drought in pro sports, something he was supposed to help end. He not only failed at this, he wildly failed at it. Granted, this was certainly not all on him. The organization takes even more blame for poor coaching choices, as well as not building a better roster and putting too much on Jack too early. However, this was a team that regularly gave up on the ice. It was a divided locker room that seemingly cared little for each other, and that speaks volumes to its captain, Jack Eichel. Captains and superstar players are supposed to elevate those around them. He did not do this at all. Eichel was a fantastic failure in Buffalo. On top of that, there are many rumours about his personal life among fans that don't help matters, but we will leave those for what they are: rumours. Everyone has them and that doesn't mean they are true. Combine all of this with the tank and Tim Murray's initial comments and what you have is a situation doomed to fail. Again, that is NOT all Jack's fault, but he does shoulders some blame. The Sabres failed to put him in a winning situation, and they shoulder a huge part of that blame. What is objectively true is he needed a change, and he got it.
The Golden Knights are an amazing story. An expansion team that in their first year of existence made the Stanly Cup Finals. That's just unheard of. They were well-built but were missing a huge piece: a game changer. They lost to Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup and realized they needed that one player. In comes Jack Eichel, a player who can control the ice and take over a game when needed. The Sabres, despite their failures during his tenure, can attest to this: when Jack is on he can absolutely dominate an entire game. It's mesmerizing. It's what Vegas felt it desperately needs, and they go it.
What Were Both Teams' Goals From the Trade?
For Buffalo, it is to end their playoff drought, make the playoffs consistently, and become a better overall team in the long run. For Vegas, it is to win a Stanley Cup.
Where Are the Teams Today on Accomplishing Those Goals?
We're going to not worry about last season because it wasn't a full one for anybody. So let's focus on this one: both teams' first full season on the returns of the trade. There are still games left but very few. Here's where the teams and players are:
Vegas: locked a playoff spot, and will likely have one of the top seeds in the Western Conference. Definitely a Cup contender.
Eichel: Leads Vegas in scoring. 27 Goals, 36 Assists, 63 Points.
Buffalo: is 5 points out of a playoff spot, but not out of it. First winning season since 2011.
Alex Tuch: Second on the team in points. 33 Goals, 40 Assists, 73 points. (Trails Tage Thompson)
Peyton Krebbs: 12th on the team in points: 8 goals, 16 assists, 24 points.
Who Won the Jack Eichel Trade: Buffalo or Vegas?
There 3 ways to look at this:
1. Right now, in terms of sheer return on player and looking at points, Buffalo won the trade. Much like Eichel, Alex Tuch has been an absolute force and game-changer on the ice that teams have to game plan for. He has more points, goals, and his leadership skills will likely make him the team's captain next year. Statistically, he has been better than Eichel. Krebbs has been a decent player as well with a high upside, but Buffalo is hoping for more in the long run. There is a lot of excitement about Noah Östlund who is currently playing in Sweden. On paper, the return looks like it favours Buffalo. HOWEVER...
2. In terms of team success, Vegas has won the trade thus far. The Golden Knights sit in the top spot of the Western Conference and are a Stanly Cup favourite. Buffalo is yet to make the playoffs and while they are still alive in the playoff race, they need a lot of help to essentially win out to make it this year. That's Vegas' goal, and all those stats for Buffalo are nice, but winning is what matters. HOWEVER...
3. In reality NEITHER team has won the trade... yet. Why? Because neither has reached their ultimate goal. If Vegas does not win, or at least reach, another Stanley Cup, the trade was a failure. If Buffalo doesn't become a team that consistently makes the playoffs and thus pushes to make the Stanley Cup finals, the trade was a failure. Even if Vegas wins the Cup this year, we still won't know who won the trade. BOTH could win in the end (doesn't that stink, fans?).
It could be much like the Ryan O'Reilly trade between Buffalo and St. Louis. Yes, at the time it looked awful for Buffalo. St. Loius won a Stanley Cup with O'Reilly. However, years later, now the Sabres have superstar Tage Thompson from that trade. So did Buffalo lose that trade? We still really don't know, do we? Time is still ticking on that one.