Jack Eichel is a member of the Golden Knights. As a prominent Jedi once said, this is where the fun begins.
The Golden Knights have their No. 1 center after completing the blockbuster deal with the Buffalo Sabres. Vegas gets Eichel and a third-round pick for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and two conditional picks.
It’s all good in theory. Vegas gets the center it’s always wanted. The Knights add yet another superstar to the core of this group. It’s all bliss with sunshine and rainbows in Las Vegas right now.
Getting Eichel was just part of the equation. There’s more moving parts that will need to be made before Eichel returns from neck surgery, which right now appears to be after the Olympic Break in February.
When will Eichel have surgery?
One of the biggest disconnects between Eichel and the Sabres was figuring out which neck surgery he should get; whether it be the artificial disc replacement that Eichel and his representatives wanted, or the fusion that Buffalo wanted.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon confirmed that Eichel will have his ADR surgery. At the time of publishing, Eichel is down to 2-3 choices on who and where to perform the surgery.
”It’s really challenging to give you a time frame because it’s never been done in the sport,” McCrimmon said. “I’m told that Jack has been able to be quite active in terms of training while he’s injured, even being on the ice. It’s the contact that he would not be cleared to endure.”
Eichel told ESPN’s John Buccigross that his goal is to play with Team USA in the Olympics in February. If he were to have the surgery soon as he’d like, Eichel said he’s optimistically looking at a three-month recovery frame which would run into February.
That would also mean Eichel is ready to return to form on an NHL roster. Which brings us to the next, and most obvious, question.
What about the salary cap?
Eichel’s cap hit is at $10 million for the final four-plus seasons of his contract. He’s already placed on LTIR.
As are Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. That alone is $26.5 million on LTIR for a team that’s being pushed up to the cap ceiling as is.
That’s not even discussing the injuries to William Karlsson, Zach Whiteclooud and Nolan Patrick. Whitecloud could also be eligible for LTIR due to his broken hand, and Patrick’s uncertainty revolving around his status is cause for some concern.
“We’ve never experienced anything quite like what we’re going through right now,” McCrimmon said. “One of the downsides of injuries, like we have currently, is they sometimes lead to more injuries from overuse of players and that type of thing. So, if and when that poses a challenge for us, we’ll address it at that time.”
A healthy Eichel, Pacioretty and Stone would put the Golden Knights near $10 million over the cap. Vegas’ ideal situation would be to stash Eichel on LTIR until the playoffs (should the Golden Knights make it), bring him back ala a Nikita Kucherov situation in May, and roll from there.
But if Eichel’s goal is to play in the Olympics, that’s obviously not going to happen. That means another move, or two, is likely on the horizon.
Two names at the forefront would be Reilly Smith and Brayden McNabb, two more original Misfits. Smith ($5 million) and McNabb ($2 million) are on expiring contracts and could be easier to move. Another name to consider is Evgenii Dadonov, who also carries a $5 million cap hit and was acquired by Vegas in the offseason from the Ottawa Senators.
The trade deadline is set for April 12 but Eichel will accelerate that timeline as far as the Golden Knights being active in that marketplace.
What about the current roster?
Unless you’re looking at this from a chaotic point of view, both teams accomplished what they wanted in this trade.
The Sabres get an NHL-ready player and a top prospect for their farm system.
The Golden Knights acquired a 25-year-old superstar while trading away two players that have combined for zero points this season.
For much of the discussion pertaining to how this impacts the Golden Knights in the short term, it could’ve been much worse. Someone like Shea Theodore could’ve been on the table, maybe a Smith or Jonathan Marchessault if we’re going that far.
Losing Krebs is a shot from an organizational standpoint that he’s now in the VGK prospect graveyard with Cody Glass, Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom. He was also someone that worked his tail off in games and looked primed for a breakthrough.
But if the biggest worry coming out of this deal is how to replace Krebs’ inability to score, that’s not that bad of a win for the short term.
“I think you can’t look short term when you have an opportunity to get a difference-maker. This guy is 25 years old. Those guys are never available. The opportunity to get a guy like this is very rare,” said coach Pete DeBoer. “I think the way you have to look at it is if he’s not in the situation he is, is he even available? The answer is probably not. That’s the price you’ve got to pay short term and I’m confident in our group that we’re going to scratch and claw and keep ourselves relevant.”
The Golden Knights are 4-5-0 heading into Thursday’s game against the Ottawa Senators. That three-game winning streak last week was what they needed to keep afloat. Stone, who was placed on LTIR retroactive to Oct. 15, is set for a possible return following Vegas’ Canadian road trip. Pacioretty, on the other hand, might be a little bit further out.
All in all, the sky isn’t quite falling, but it could be worse.
Does Eichel come close to his previous form?
That’s the $64,000 question. Or in this case, $10 million.
McCrimmon put it best: There’s a lot of unknowns with this. Eichel hasn’t played since March. It will have been a full calendar year, give or take a week or two, when he returns to on-ice action if everything goes accordingly.
But one thing Eichel has never done in his career is be in the playoffs. He’s going to get all the opportunities possible to get that chance. If there’s anything Alec Martinez taught the masses, it’s don’t underestimate a player’s desire in the playoffs.
“He’s extremely competitive. He’s an extremely competitive person,” McCrimmon said. “I really feel that he is going to have a lot to prove. And he is going to embrace this challenge.”
Even if Eichel takes a slight step back, he’s still a guy that every other franchise could possibly want. The talent is too great to believe Eichel himself will fall off. When healthy, he’s one of the best centers in the world.
This one, however, is going to take some time. is