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The Jack Eichel debacle

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Should Chuck get ghost pepper-spicy, or is this not the right direction?

Philadelphia Flyers v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

There has long been a lament that the Flyers of the post-Snider era have been disinterested, gutless, and willing to accept mediocrity; all of these are acceptably fair assertions. The biggest reason for this gripe (besides the on-ice results) is the lack of any earth shattering moves or the addition of any true stars, a la the Danny Brière signing or Chris Pronger trade. Fans are avaricious for an exciting young talent of superstar caliber that the franchise hasn’t seen since the prime days of Claude Giroux, and with today’s news, it appears one will be available in the offseason. Enter: Jack Eichel.

The capricious Sabres centerman has been in a... contentious relationship with the organization from the moment he was drafted, and it appears that the situation is finally coming to a head. In his end of season media conference call, Eichel said the following:

“I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. 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.”

Eichel also dropped another quote to voice his clear displeasure with the handling of his herniated disc and the general contact between the two sides:

“Listen, my No. 1 interest is Jack Eichel, you know what I mean? You gotta look after yourself. You gotta look after what’s best for yourself. The organization has a similar job to do, which is to look out for what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s tough. Things haven’t been, I guess, really black and white. We’re all trying to educate ourselves in this situation and what would be best moving forward. There’s been some tough conversations. But I have to do what’s best for me. I’m only going to play hockey for so long. I’m 24 years old. Hopefully I have many more good years in this amazing game left. But I have to take care of myself. It’s been tough at times. But I’ll come out on the other end of it.”

With all of that said and rumors of another napalm-scented summer in Buffalo swirling, it’s fair to assume that the former second overall pick will be on another team next October. Do the Flyers make sense as a fit, and what’s a realistic trade going to look like? Let’s have a glimpse.

How good is Eichel right now?

Eichel has played six seasons in Buffalo; below is a table with some of his basic stats in that timespan.

Eichel’s Basic Stats

Season P/60 ESP Overall Scoring GP Age
Season P/60 ESP Overall Scoring GP Age
2016-2016 102nd T85th T58th 81 19
2016-2017 22nd 111th 54th 61 20
2017-2018 41st 69th 55th 67 21
2018-2019 28th 26th 24th 77 22
2019-2020 25th 16th 10th 68 23
2020-2021 85th T444th T283rd 21 24
Data via QuantHockey

As we can see here, Eichel has been among the league’s top 30 in most of the production stats that the standard fan would look at, but he’s only really scored like a top 10 player once in his career. While that could fairly be chalked up to playing with little help around him, a player billed as transformative might want to have better results in their younger years to assert themselves as a legit top five center in the game. It sounds like I’m dogging on Eichel here, but in reality I’m simply making a point: Eichel’s point production profile doesn’t perfectly match how he’s viewed.

We’re going to be using Evolving-Hockey.com’s GAR and xGAR stats a bit; if you want a detailed explanation on how they work, check out this page. In terms of percentiles over Eichel’s career, let’s see how he grades out by both of the aforementioned player value metrics.

Eichel’s GAR since entering the league, ranked by percentile.
Image via Evolving-Hockey.com
Eichel’s expected GAR since entering the league, ranked by percentile.
Image via Evolving-Hockey.com

So, Eichel falls within a list of exceptionally strong players, and appears to have significantly outperformed his expected results over the span of his career. What exactly does that mean in the scheme of things? For starters, it signals that the Buffalo star legitimately packs some of the best finishing skill in the league, a trait typically possessed by players who outperform their expected totals regularly. The other key takeaway here is that Eichel has yet to truly ascend to the echelon of the league’s elite centermen, having never ranked top 10 in GAR and only ranking top 10 in xGAR once (4th in 2019-2020). You could interpret this in a few different ways. Let’s examine them.

Where will Eichel go from here?

According to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting NHLe model, Eichel is most similar in terms of star scoring profile (averaging over .7 points per game) to Flyers legend Danny Brière, tailed by Pierre Turgeon, Pat LaFontaine, and Dale Hawerchuk. By NHL production profile, Bader’s model aligns Eichel with Hawerchuk, Turgeon, and LaFontaine, alongside Evgenii Malkin and Aleksander Barkov. This is a trajectory created from a multitude of factors such as age and production, but all of this illustrates one crucial thing: Eichel hasn’t even sniffed his ceiling at age 24, and he’s already a guaranteed top 20ish player. With Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier still posting seasons that are within the realms of that consideration, the Flyers would become one of the more loaded teams in terms of top end talent, provided everyone could stay healthy.

Are there any good reasons not to at least attempt to add Eichel?

Well, in short, not really. Players of this caliber rarely become available for a trade, and the Flyers honestly have a collection of mid-tier assets and disappointing young talent that could be cobbled into a package for the American star. The bigger question is how exactly they’d be able to make it happen; with a flat cap and a roster slammed up against the salary limit, things are already difficult, but the team’s biggest area of need (defense) would be nearly impossible to address with the addition of Eichel’s $10 million AAV salary. It’s all about tradeoffs here.

What would need to happen for an Eichel trade to manifest?

Firstly, one of James van Riemsdyk or Jakub Voracek would need to be selected by the Seattle Kraken in their expansion draft, allowing the Flyers to shed somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-8 million in cap space. With that out of the way, the Flyers would still need to make some serious moves in order to meet the desires that Chuck Fletcher has vaguely referred to. Let’s say that the team pursues a top pair defender who costs around $5.5 million AAV and a backup goalie for $2.5 million AAV; that would leave Philly with close to zero cap space. With that being said, the players most likely to be moved in order for an offseason of this sort to occur would be Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere, who are making a combined $10 million AAV for the foreseeable future.

In order to offload such contracts, the Flyers would need to sacrifice at the bare minimum a first round pick (see the Marleau deal) with a collection of prospects included. Depending upon the buyer and the assets/lack of assets coming back, the deal could fluctuate, but in the end the team will need to shed some serious low-value assets (Gostisbehere) or make a swap of players (Konecny). Guys like Nolan Patrick, Yegor Zamula, and Morgan Frost could end up as sweeteners.

I’ll conclude this article with a little projection for a set of trades that I’ve mostly arbitrarily cooked up (I’ll be using a jerry rigged system to determine prospect trade value that I cooked up in this article here).

The Matt Niskanen trade to Seattle here was just to offload his contract, while the JVR swap was to simulate the expansion draft. This is presuming that Seattle will select JVR without any compensation, which is fairly possible. Halak would be a UFA signing for somewhere around his current cap hit, hence the empty swap with Boston.

Those exchanges would leave the Flyers with 24 roster players and somewhere around $1.7-1.5 million in cap space. With Hart and Sanheim both reaching RFA status soon, that’s not a whole lot to work with, so yet another trade might be required to make it all work. With that, you’re left with this lineup:

Giroux - Eichel - Allison

Lindblom - Couturier - Farabee

NAK - Hayes - Voráček

Laughton - Laczynski - Twarynski

Provorov - Ellis

Sanheim - Braun

York - Hägg

Hart - Halak

Philadelphia would be devoid of draft picks for the foreseeable future coupled with a deeply mangled cap situation, and their next season would still be heavily reliant upon Hart succeeding. The above construction would be the most chaotic summer for a team in the recent history of the NHL, making it extremely unlikely, but I feel the listed trades are reasonably fair with the exception of the Eichel trade. Considering how good Eichel is, I honestly underpaid a bit; The Flyers would likely need to throw in an additional high draft pick or a roster player like Sanheim or Lindblom at the minimum. It might even take the inclusion of Joel Farabee to make a trade work, but these are the Sabres we’re talking about so I kept my expectations optimistically low.

Part of my point in writing this article is to make it expressly clear that if the Flyers wanted to add a superstar young talent, they’d need to jeopardize the integrity of the entire roster’s present and future. It would blow me away if Chuck Fletcher managed to acquire a number one defender and Eichel in the same offseason, to put it mildly. Is this really a better offseason for the team than simply signing Dougie Hamilton and Halak after losing JVR to Seattle? It’s hard to say, but I would answer no.

So, in summation, keep your expectations surrounding an Eichel trade low, because it’s almost impossible for the team to manage it and still plug the remaining holes that are almost certainly more urgent.