Here’s a hockey news flash for you.
The Buffalo Sabres are a flaming dumpster fire of an NHL organization that hasn’t qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in a decade and hasn’t won a playoff series since Daniel Briere was a 95-point scorer in the NHL.
That was a long, long, long time ago.
They even screwed up tanking for the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft when they missed out on Connor McDavid, but they didn’t exactly do badly for themselves by selecting current captain Jack Eichel with the second overall pick.
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The Sabres were in the news this week when owners Terry and Kim Pegula completely cleaned house by firing GM Jason Botterill and assistant GMs Steve Greeley and Randy Sexton among more than 20 people given their pink slips in management and scouting. During the Pegula run as Sabres owners, Buffalo has now gone through a head-shaking six head coaches, four team presidents, three GMs and they haven’t made the playoffs even a single time during that fallow hockey period in Buff.
With the hiring of a new GM and plenty of current vacancies in the management and scouting departments, it feels once again like the Sabres are massively rebuilding after they were one of only seven to not qualify for the 24-team tournament scheduled this summer when the NHL returns to play.
So if you’re the Boston Bruins, now might be the best opportunity you’d ever have to bring the Chelmsford-born Eichel to Boston.
The Bruins already have on their roster one of Eichel’s teammates from his Boston University days in Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk and one from his US National Development Team days in Anders Bjork. And the Bruins have made a concerted effort in recent years to load up on local NHL talent with Grzelcyk, Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner among others, so there would be some familiar Boston accents in the B’s dressing room to make Eichel feel at home.
The one thing the B’s don’t have with their contingent of Massachusetts players, though, is a local kid with superstar potential. That would be Eichel, who finished eighth in the NHL with 38 goals and 10th in the league with 78 points in 68 games. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Eichel is already a game-breaking force with long, powerful hockey strides, a frame that’s become Superman-strong on the puck at 23 years old and the goal-scoring instincts that make him an elite player in his early 20s.
It’s clear, though, that Eichel hasn’t reached his full potential in Buffalo, where he’s expected to lead and change the Sabres losing culture while knowing nothing but losing and frustration in his young NHL career. Certainly, Eichel sounded exasperated and ready for something to change when he spoke to reporters after the 24-team playoff format made it clear last month that Buffalo’s season was over.
"Listen, I'm fed up with losing and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated," said Eichel, who has missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his five NHL seasons since jumping into the NHL as an 18-year-old kid. "It's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It's been a tough couple of months, it's been a tough five years with where things have [gone].
"I'm a competitor. I want to win every time I go out on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season. I'd be lying if I said that I'm not getting frustrated with where things are going. it's been a pleasure working with (Sabres coach) Ralph (Krueger) and he does so much for our group every day. There are tough times and he does an amazing job of bringing us back in and narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally. But yeah, I'm definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit went and it's definitely worn on me."
It sure sounds like an exasperated player in Eichel that’s tacitly pining for a change of scenery rather than spending more fruitless seasons waiting around for another organizational rebuild in Buffalo.
If you’re Don Sweeney, why not pick up the phone and see if the latest Sabres GM is looking to clean house with the roster as well?
Certainly, the Bruins would need to pull off some seismic moves to accommodate a move for Eichel. It would start with trading high-grade, young assets like promising young Michigan center and former first round pick John Beecher and restricted free agent winger Jake DeBrusk, along with a robust high draft pick package. Perhaps you don’t get out of an earth-shattering Eichel deal without including a young D-man like Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo, and that’s where the decision could get awfully difficult were it to ever get to that point.
The Bruins would also need to find a taker for David Krejci and the final year of his $7.25 million contract, which could offset much of the $10 million per season that Eichel will be making for the next six seasons. Given his youth, his upward trajectory and the salary cap space the Bruins will have when Krejci is gone, an opportunity like Eichel would be the best way to spend admittedly big money in a post-COVID-19 world where economics are uncertain.
But a trade for Eichel would give the Bruins the dominant, young center they absolutely need in their organization with Patrice Bergeron and Krejci both well into NHL middle age, and Charlie Coyle best suited for a third line center slot after signing a long contract extension with the Black and Gold this season. It would also give the Bruins the exact kind of deep scoring talent among their top-6 forward group that they have been actively seeking out while loading up the top Perfection Line for the last few seasons of success.
Certainly, this isn’t something that would happen anytime soon as the Bruins are focused on this summer’s return to play for the NHL, and it’s something that isn’t likely to happen at all given the sheer magnitude of the move.
But wouldn’t it be great if this week’s Buffalo Sabres massacre someday turned into a door opening for Eichel to come home to Boston?