Oh great, another story about Jack Eichel says another tired fan that is almost sure their team won't acquire him.
Well, stick around for this one. It's fun! It's not a hypothetical on how specifically the Minnesota Wild can move assets and sign contracts the right way to acquire the former No. 2 overall pick. It's not an article saying how dominant a pairing of him and Kirill Kaprizov could be (assuming Kaprizov does come back to Minnesota). It's not even a plea to swing big and bring the supposedly elite centerman to the State of Hockey.
It's actually a plea for the Minnesota Wild to stay far away from Eichel.
Don't inquire. Don't pick up the phone. Leave it alone.
Yes, true elite No. 1 centers don't come around too often. Before the Wild drops everything to Eichel, consider the possibility he might not be a bonafide, elite No. 1 center.
Don't Worry, It's Just a Neck Injury
Guaranteed health is far from expected when players are signed or traded for. It's a physical sport that takes a toll on everyone who plays. Wild fans intimately know how serious concussions are because they prematurely ended Pierre-Marc Bouchard's career. Wild fans might also remember the questions surrounding Zach Parise's return from a herniated disc a few years ago that left him unable to perform the most basic movements. There was a chance it could have ended his career.
This is certainly not hoping a player is so injured it could jeopardize his career, but it is a warning that neck injuries are complicated. Eichel's injury is complicated enough that his doctors and Buffalo's team doctors disagree on how to treat it at the end of the season. His own doctors suggested a type of surgery that has never been performed on an NHL player before.
Neck and back injuries have the potential to significantly impact a player's career performance, not to mention their quality of life. Eichel has the same type of injury as Parise had nearly four years ago: a herniated disc. While they may be in different places, spine surgery and recovery is a delicate process in the world of professional sports.
It goes without saying that if Bill Guerin is looking into this potential for a trade, he'll need to be sure this injury is on the path to being resolved smoothly.
Money's tight, and it's about to get tighter
The Wild need to re-sign their young talent, and those players are going to be expensive. The team's future rests on the backs of Kaprizov, Kevin Fiala, and Joel Eriksson Ek, who are set to get hefty pay raises. With each of their new contracts, the team will be right back up against the cap ceiling that isn't going up anytime soon.
Adding a piece like Eichel isn't going to be anywhere close to easy. Adding Eichel could easily cost two established players and a pick or prospect. If he is valued as an elite No. 1 center, he will fetch at least that much, even considering the lack of leverage Buffalo has at this point. What if the Wild gave up Fiala and Matt Dumba to avoid losing the latter in the expansion draft? Hurting Minnesota's defensive corps and taking away one of the few promising wingers the team has for a center with an injury history doesn't sound like a great plan for long-term roster viability.
At that point, they are up against the cap, have one electric winger in Kaprizov, one top center, and a roster of fill-ins and younger, cost-effective players. Adding Eichel along with just meeting basic roster minimums could put the Wild within $500,000 of the cap ceiling, making it extremely inflexible throughout the course of a season.
Guerin shouldn't reach for a player that would absolutely strap the team further than it already is. He'd be making it a meaningfully worse, more one-dimensional team.
Not to mention, if his injury mentioned above does impact the rest of his career, Minnesota would be stuck with his $10 million cap hit for five years. Reaching for a player could backfire and remove the team from contention for years to come.
What If Eichel is the problem in Buffalo?
Is the culture in Buffalo a result of being in a perpetual rebuild for the past decade, or has it been exacerbated with Eichel as the leader of a group that has failed to move the needle in any positive direction since his arrival? He's outlasted a host of general managers and coaches, which can lead anyone to believe he is one of the few long-standing members of a truly defeating chapter of the Sabres' history.
What if he turns out to be a locker room cancer and sinks the team, all the while making $10 million per year doing so? According to an anonymous executive quoted in a Michael Russo story in The Athletic on April 2, the perception of Eichel's character is not great among front offices league-wide. Guerin will need to have some incredible convincing before he has a chance to blow up the locker room with a trade like this. Either the dust settles, and the Wild builds forward; or through the clouds of his arrival, infighting begins and sets the team into mediocrity before anyone realizes it.
If Eichel turns out to be a problem and it isn't just Buffalo, the entire league would know he is the problem. That $10 million essentially becomes unmovable as each team understands the certainty of what they would be getting with acquiring Eichel.
In short, there are numerous reasons to be very skeptical of the Wild trading for Eichel. The risks of complete team implosion for one player are far too great to act on. Minnesota should look elsewhere and focus on forming a complete team around the one game-breaker it has and keep the sound defensive corps to push past to reach new team milestones.
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