Wild, Eichel never seemed like good fit
Right now it no longer seems to be a question of if the Buffalo Sabres will trade Eichel, but simply a question of when (and to where).
One of the teams rumored to be in the market for Buffalo’s disgruntled superstar has been the Minnesota Wild. A playoff team a year ago that has a glaring need for a No. 1 center and another superstar, franchise player. But according to the Athletic’s Michael Russo the Wild have, at least for now, backed out of the Eichel sweepstakes because according to his sources they are “fed up with the asking price from the Buffalo Sabres for the $10 million star with a neck injury.”
Naturally the Sabres are going to aim for the moon in any trade talks for one of the league’s best player, but the history of star player trades suggest that when they do move him it will be for considerably less than that.
[Related: What would a potential Jack Eichel trade look like?]
Even so, the Wild and Eichel never seemed like a sensible match for the team or the player. Not because the Wild could not actually use Eichel (every team that does not have Jack Eichel can use Jack Eichel), but because it is difficult to see how they get each other closer to their goals.
Yes, the Wild are a very good team. They were one of the biggest surprise teams in the league this past season, one of the most exciting teams, and took a huge step forward in their progression. In theory, a player like Eichel could be what they need to help take them to the next level.
It is not really that simple in reality, and it all comes down to money. Or the money the Wild would have available to them with Eichel on their roster to build around him.
Earlier this offseason the Wild sabotaged their short-term salary cap situation for the 2022-23, 2023-24, and 2024-25 seasons by buying out the remaining years of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s contracts. Those buyouts are going to create empty cap space numbers of $12.7 million, $14.7 million, and $14.7 million during those respective seasons. In terms of salary cap commitment, that is the equivalent of two or three front-line players going to absolutely nothing. Making matters worse, the salary cap does not figure to move much from its current $81.5 million number in the near future.
That means the Wild are going to be operating under their own individual salary caps between $66 and $68 million over those three seasons.
That already puts them at a huge disadvantage when it comes to building a roster when compared to the rest of the teams around the league. Adding Eichel to that would automatically take up $10 million of that cap space, leaving only $56-58 million to build a team around what will probably be his best peak seasons.
Think about what all of this would mean.
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With Eichel on their roster, combined with the Parise and Suter buyouts, the Wild would have 30 percent ($24 million) of the $81.5 million salary cap tied up and only one player on the NHL roster to show for it.
Assume Kirill Kaprizov re-signs and takes $6-7 million (maybe a conservative guess?) they would then have nearly 40 percent of the allotted salary cap number and only two players to show for it.
None of that takes into account what the Wild would have to trade out of its organization to actually complete the trade and get Eichel. Would Kevin Fiala be involved to make the money work? A top prospect? A first-round pick? All of the above? Very likely!
Teams should not be afraid to commit large sums of their salary cap space to a small core of players. It works. It worked in Pittsburgh. Tampa Bay. Washington. St. Louis. Pretty much every recent Stanley Cup winning team. But that big money core has to feature at least four-five high-level, All-Star level players. Not two. Also not with enough salary cap space for two other high level players going to literally nothing. It would be nearly impossible for the Wild to successfully build a Stanley Cup contending team around Eichel for at least another four years without having an unbelievable pipe line of cheap talent coming through the farm system, or some incredibly shrewd roster management to find bargains.
Could it be done? Possibly. But there would be almost no margin for error. One bad contract, one misevaluation, and everything goes sideways.
It is really difficult to see how this match would be any better for either side. The Wild would have a superstar, but they would have little flexibility to build around him. Eichel would get out of Buffalo, but would be going to a team that would have little flexibility to build around him.
Eichel and the Wild should work. From a hockey perspective he would be exactly what they need. The salary cap situation, though, makes it seem completely impossible to get the result everybody would want.