Dear Red Wings: Jack Eichel -- could Yzerman add him?

Sabres center ripe for trade amid injury, disagreement with Buffalo management

FILE - Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel is shown during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia, in this Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, file photo. Eichel is scheduled to address the media during an end-of-season session on Monday, May 10, 2021, for the first time since being sidelined by a herniated disk in March. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File) (Derik Hamilton, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Are the Red Wings really a potential landing spot for Jack Eichel? Sure, why not, if he agrees to it -- but is it worth the cost?

The Eichel drama, potential sweepstakes

Long, long story short: The Buffalo Sabres are garbage and the organization seems completely at a loss on how to fix the team. They apparently have no clue what moves to make next -- they’ve never showed us a reason to believe that they have a clue -- and perhaps most importantly: The management does not know how to treat star players. Buffalo is a burning dumpster fire and basically have been one since the days of Ryan Miller and Danny Briere -- that was 15 year ago, nearly three “rebuilds” ago. Sickening. I’m truly sorry for all of the Sabres fans out there.

Jack Eichel, Buffalo’s 1st-round pick in 2015 (2nd overall) -- the guy who was drafted to help save hockey in Buffalo -- has been enduring the mess that is the Sabres. To make matters worse this season, Eichel suffered a herniated disc in his neck. That forced him to miss a significant portion of the season -- he played just 21 games for 2 goals and 18 assists, a real step back from his 78 points in 68 games the previous season.

Now he wants to get healthy, naturally. And to do that, Eichel wants to have a special kind of surgery. The Sabres don’t want him to have that surgery. General Manager Kevyn Adams went this far:

“Now it’s been speculated and discussed from Jack’s camp about potentially having a surgery that’s never been done on a National Hockey League player before. Our doctors aren’t comfortable with that. But I think we all are in a position where we want the same thing and hope that when we re-image this in the timeline I laid out, Jack will have made steps and strides to be in a position where we’re in a better spot.”

Adams said all of that after Eichel spoke to the media -- here’s what Eichel had said:

“I’ve been a bit upset about the way things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. The most important thing now is to get healthy and be ready to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

So with these statements out in public, how does this relationship not end immediately? Eichel must be traded, right? You can’t say that kind of stuff, then have the GM slam you publicly, and not get traded, right??

Eichel, 24, is under contract for another five seasons -- $10 million cap hit each season.

What Eichel is as a player

I think it’s safe to say he’s a world class playmaker, first and foremost. When he’s healthy, he’s working to make everyone around him better. He scored 28 goals and 54 assists in his 2018-19 campaign when he was running on all cylinders. He has definite strength on the puck and can be a very tough customer to match up against at center -- however, his career faceoff percentage is lacking at just 44.2%.

He’s a first line center on almost all NHL rosters and he’s of course helping anchor the power play. He controls the puck, much like a Pavel Datsyuk or Patrice Bergeron type of player. And that shows in his Fenwick For % (FF%) the past three seasons -- 51.5%, 51.2% and 56.7% -- on a terrible Sabres team. That is impressive. Datsyuk, meanwhile, boasted a FF% of 63.5% in 2007-08, and then never dropped below 55% before leaving the NHL. That guy was something else. Magic, for real.

  • FF% refresher: The NHL calls this stat “USAT%” -- unblocked shot attempts percentage. This is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts that the team takes out of total unblocked shot attempts. For a player, it is the percentage of unblocked shots attempts the team takes, out of total unblocked shot attempts, while the player is on the ice. A FF% of more than 50% means that the team produced more shot attempts than their opponent when this player was on the ice. Overall, it’s a possession metric, so it’s a good one to pay attention to for centers such as Eichel.

One more comparison: Dylan Larkin’s FF% was 48% this season, 50.1% last season and a career best 54.1% in 2018-19.

It’s clear Eichel can add a lot to a roster -- and again, he’s only 24 years old, as is Larkin.

What would Eichel add to the Red Wings?

Personally, I think you could argue Eichel is a slightly more skilled version of Larkin. The two players have a lot in common. In fact, they were teammates for a couple of seasons at the U.S. National Development Program. Both of them spent a year playing college -- Eichel at Boston University, and Larkin at the University of Michigan -- before going pro. Eichel is a little bit bigger than Larkin -- he’s listed at an inch taller and about 15 pounds heavier.

So if Eichel joined the Red Wings (who clearly have the money to make that happen), he’d right away be the top line center. That would slot Larkin to second line center. The Red Wings would have such strong depth down the middle with a budding Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen.

Can Red Wings swing it? Should they?

The first question: If Steve Yzerman is really interested in making a move for Eichel, would he have to convince him that he’s not joining another difficult rebuild? I think on paper -- reviewing the prospects and the caps -- Detroit is a better situation for any player coming from Buffalo. That’s how aimless and hopeless the Sabres look right now.

So it depends on if Eichel is in the mood to help lift the Red Wings back to playoff contender status, or if he wants to go somewhere else that’s already competing. There are only so many playoff contenders who will have the ability to make a move for Eichel and give up existing talent/contracts to make it happen.

Yzerman could send draft picks -- he has a billion (listed at the end of this) -- and perhaps a prospect or two for Eichel. I don’t know how far he’s willing to go, though. Buffalo would be losing a franchise player -- does Yzerman want to give up at least a 1st-round pick and someone like Veleno or, dare I say Larkin, for this guy? We’re talking about a potentially pricey deal here. (To be clear, I think Larkin is untouchable as a Red Wings lifer, for now at least, and it makes zero sense to move him for Eichel).

Moreover, is it the right time to make this kind of move? I think you could argue if not now, when? But on the flip side, if we’re talking about the Red Wings not being true playoff contenders for another 3-5 years, where does Eichel’s contract with five years left fit in? Would we be looking at having to resign him right when the team is getting good? Or does he immediately move the needle for Yzerman’s group? And again, does Eichel really want to go through another “rebuilding” scenario, even if it’s a slightly better one?

These are questions I am guessing Yzerman has already considered. There is a risk here -- pass up on a player like Eichel and you might not get a chance to add one like him again, or you can add him but not move the needle enough to push the team into playoff contention before we’re talking about having to resign him.

That’s the scenario in a nutshell. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on it --

More: Dear Red Wings end-of-season notes: 2020-21 vs. 2019-20, looking ahead

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Red Wings draft positions

I’m keeping this here as a nice reminder.

2021 draft positions:

Here’s the updated list of Red Wings 2021 and 2022 draft positions:

2022 draft positions

Key dates for the 2020-21 NHL season:

  • June 2 -- NHL Draft Lottery
  • July 15 -- Last possible day for the playoffs
  • 24 hours after end of playoffs -- Player buyout period begins
  • July 21 -- Expansion draft for Seattle Kraken
  • July 23-24 -- NHL Entry Draft
  • July 28 -- Free agency begins

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.