Jack Eichel trade grades: Golden Knights land star from Sabres, Eichel finally get surgery he wants

The standoff is finally over: Jack Eichel is no longer a Buffalo Sabre.

After months of dragging their feet — whether on the trade front or deciding what surgery he should be allowed to get — the Sabres agreed upon a deal that sends Eichel west to Sin City. The Vegas Golden Knights officially acquired the star centerman on Thursday morning in a deal that saw two projected NHL stars heading east and a swap of draft picks.

Here are full trade details along with a complete breakdown from the perspective of both the Golden Knights and Sabres.

Golden Knights receive:

Jack Eichel (F), conditional third-round pick

Sabres receive:

Alex Tuch (F), Peyton Krebs (F), conditional draft picks.

Draft picks conditions:

  • Vegas will transfer its own first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and its own second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft to Buffalo
  • Buffalo will transfer its own third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft to Vegas
  • Vegas will transfer its own first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and its own second-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to Buffalo
  • Buffalo will transfer its own third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to Vegas

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Golden Knights grade: A

Despite the fact that Eichel will miss some time, the Golden Knights are getting an all-star, high-end talent. They’re also an organization expected to now do right by the 25-year-old.

Eichel hasn’t played a game since March 7 when he was diagnosed with a herniated disk after hitting his head on the boards against the Islanders. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniation occurs when one of the rubbery cushions or (disk) in the spine ruptures or tears and the nucleus pushes out. The herniated disk can then impact the nerves nearby resulting in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm. Not great for a layperson, especially not great for a hockey player that is required to carry a stick around and shoot pucks.

Since the summer, he’s been fighting the Sabres on the type of surgical procedure to fix the herniation. The Sabres wanted anterior cervical discectomy, which usually involves removing the impacted disk and fusion (ACDF) by placing a bone graft where the disc was. Eichel is more comfortable with having artificial disk replacement surgery which does not involve fusion and, instead, an artificial disk is placed between the two cervical vertebrae. 

According to spine-health.com, ACDF is considered the “gold standard,” but artificial disk replacement surgery provides more mobility and has fewer long-term needs. However, it hasn’t been done on an NHL player before which is why the Sabres were so hesitant and per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams have the final say on the treatment of injuries.

“He will have surgery. He will have artificial disk replacement surgery,” Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon confirmed. 

“Why wouldn’t his people want what’s best for him?” McCrimmon asked later in his press conference. “None of us in this room have the level of expertise. I defer to the people that he’s entrusted himself and his health to make that decision.”

Now Eichel will get the one he wants and will, if everything goes well, make his Golden Knights debut after the February Olympic break. When he does, he’ll slot in at center and automatically give the Golden Knights a boost to the top six. The 2015 No. 2 overall pick has potted 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 games for a team that has not competed for a playoff spot during his tenure in Western New York. Part of the Hart Trophy conversation every year, Eichel led Buffalo in scoring for four straight seasons (2016-17 – 2019-20) including a career-high 82 points in 2018-19.

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“Incredibly good hands, shot, his release is special in terms of how quickly the puck comes off his stick. His ability to transport the puck up ice,” noted McCrimmon. “He picks up a loose puck in your end and then you’re in their end; he’s got that type of speed. He’s going to be a real important player on our power play. … He’s extremely competitive. He’s an extremely competitive person. I really feel that he is going to have a lot to prove, and he is going to embrace this challenge.” Added Alex Pietrangelo: “Jack can change the game in blink of an eye and that’s an element that you want on your team.”

Sabres grade: F

Just to be clear, this grade has nothing to do with the return the team got and everything to do with how the organization decided it was in their best interest to dictate how a human being should live their life and treat their body. The Buffalo Sabres failed Jack Eichel. 

“I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt,” Eichel said via Zoom after the season when speaking to reporters. “I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. It’s been tough at times. Right now, for me, the most important thing is just trying to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

If Eichel has already opted for surgery to fix the herniated disk then he is already at his breaking point with the neck injury and the pain it produces. And that’s just not fair that he’s been forced to languish for months. Here’s the thing, if Eichel got the procedure he wanted months ago and it worked as expected, he’d be playing right now. If the procedure had issues, then it was on him as it was the procedure he wanted. Now he’ll be able to get the procedure he’s most comfortable with. 

The one kudos for the Sabres is that they did not retain any salary in this deal as Eichel comes with a $10 million cap hit. They received two players who are young and under contract for a few years. Tuch hails from Western New York and is now heading home. A member of the Golden Knights since the 2017 Expansion Draft, Tuch scored 139 points in 249 games and 33 points in 66 Stanley Cup playoff games. He won’t be available for a bit as he is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. 

“Alex is a very good hockey player, proven in this league, under contract for this year and the next four years at a young age and a very productive player and high character,” said Adams. “He was unbelievable in my conversation with him and how excited he is to be a Buffalo Sabre and told me this is a dream come true for him. So that’s exactly the type of person and talent on the ice we need and exactly the type of personality we need off the ice as we drive our culture forward.”

Krebs is a quality prospect who is expected to eventually be a top point producer in the NHL. Although he only suited up for 13 games in two years with Vegas, he was a key piece to this puzzle for Adams. Krebs skated with Sabres forward Dylan Cozens on Canada’s 2021 world junior silver-medal winning team.

Adams on Krebs: “It’s really important that we targeted young players that are going to fit us moving forward and he has a lot of what we were looking for, in terms of the way he plays the game…  his character, his leadership qualities, that all played a part in this and, you know, we’re thrilled.”

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