Why Flames trading for Jack Eichel is little more than a pipe dream

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel carries the puck during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

By now it’s clear Brad Treliving has been given the vote of confidence by ownership to continue building the Calgary Flames.

A big part of his mandate this summer most certainly revolves around effecting significant change to a once-promising roster heading in the wrong direction last season. Whether that involves trading just one, or several, of his core pieces, the pressure is squarely on the eighth-year GM to re-shape and re-invigorate his lineup.

He’s not alone in that regard, which is part of the reason why trading for Jack Eichel is little more than a pipe dream for the Flames.

If the Sabres captain is indeed unable to bridge the gap with management, prompting a trade, there are just too many teams capable of offering so much more than the Flames have to offer. Yet, faint hope still exists in a marketplace clamouring for an Eichel-sized shakeup.

Case in point: last week, a fake tweet got the fan base talking when a Twitter account that looked remarkably close to @NHLFlames announced that Matthew Tkachuk, Dillon Dube and the team’s 12th- overall pick this summer had been shipped to Buffalo for Eichel.

"Welcome to the #CofRed, Jack," wrote @NHLFlams.

Normally we don’t give such accounts recognition, but it opened the door for the question: which team would say no?

Would the Flames really part ways with two of their most popular and coveted players, as well as the team’s top pick this year, for a player whose lingering injury issues could potentially require surgery that could sideline him for a chunk of this season?

As much as Darryl Sutter and Treliving covet the notion of grabbing a superstar centre, the risk involved with coughing up such significant assets for a player with unknown status is daunting.

For a GM clearly on the hot seat to prove he can turn things around immediately, it would be a massive gamble, especially considering Eichel had just two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season.

Treliving has proven conclusively he isn’t scared to roll the dice via the trade route, but with the 24-year-old’s endless talent comes a $10-million annual cap hit for the next five years, which includes the final four armed with a no-movement clause.

There’s a lot of eggs in that basket.

The bigger question is whether the aforementioned package from the Flames would be big enough for Sabres GM Kevyn Adams to bite on.

Not even close, according to multiple reports that suggest the Sabres are looking for upwards of six players, if not a smaller deal that would include youngsters far more highly touted than a second-round pick like Dube.

Tkachuk is only under the Flames' control for two more years before he can hit the open market. As an alternative, Johnny Gaudreau only has one more year left before hitting UFA status. Would either agree to sign long-term deals with Buffalo as part of trade conditions? Highly unlikely.

Short lists by league insiders citing teams still in the running for Eichel no longer include the Flames for a reason.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported this week that no team has been given permission by the Sabres to talk directly to Eichel or his doctors to delve into the status of the neck injury that caused him to miss the second half of the season.

Eichel suffered a herniated disc in his neck March 7 when he was run into the end boards by Casey Cizikas. While it was initially believed Eichel would be able to return late in the season, he was later shut down. The team prescribed rest, but a second opinion from Eichel’s medical advisors suggested surgery was required.

The Sabres disagreed, prompting what Eichel referred to as a "disconnect" between him and the club at a season-ending press availability in which he stressed that he had to do what was best for him.

He went on to admit he was fed up with losing and that he had a lot of thinking to do this off-season. He wouldn’t say whether he’d requested a trade, but admitted that was a possibility by saying, "the most important thing now is to try to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that may be."

Anaheim appears to be the frontrunner right now in a high-stakes poker game being played by the Sabres, who have little to lose by putting a massive price tag on their star.

Teams like Minnesota, Columbus, Boston, Ottawa, Vegas and the New York Rangers are amongst the other teams that have reportedly expressed interest in Eichel. Treliving has touched base and is well aware of the ask. So far, the price is too high and the risk too steep for many of them too.

It may prompt the Sabres to re-evaluate whether they are content to move forward with Eichel as a building block, or lower their ask.

Either way, don’t expect the Flames to be in the running.

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