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  • What the Wild Can Learn From Not Trading for Jack Eichel

    Image courtesy of © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
    Justin Wiggins

    And then there were two.

    With the Stanley Cup Final all but set, the annual tradition begins. The NHL is a copycat league, and teams will inevitably compare their own roster to those assembled in Florida and Las Vegas. Some of the nitpicking will make sense, for example, Florida acquired several undervalued players that are helping them now. Others aren't, as it's hard to replicate what the Florida Panthers did by signing Sergei Bobrovsky to the worst contract of the salary cap era, only for him to suddenly resemble Dominik Hasek in net.

    Same goes for Florida’s blockbuster out-of-nowhere trade for superstar Matthew Tkachuk last summer. There are only two Tkachuks in the NHL, and just one Matthew. Even if there were more, who'd trade one now?

    Or perhaps Minnesota Wild fans will gaze upon their Western Conference foes in the Sin City for inspiration. Their propensity for doing everything they can to stockpile high-end talent at the expense of their own fan favorites can be difficult to replicate. From Mark Stone, to Alex Pietrangelo, to Jack Eichel, the Vegas Golden Knights built their roster outside of the NHL's norms.

    It’s here where we must pause and reflect, because the Wild had every chance to think outside the box in acquiring one of those superstars before Vegas could.

    It’s not often young No. 1 centers become available on the open market. Yet, in the summer of 2021, Eichel found himself there. Maybe more accurately, forced himself there. The former second-overall pick was in a prolonged dispute with the Buffalo Sabres over the handling of his neck injury. After months of impasse, Eichel became frustrated and demanded a trade.

    The Wild had a path to finally acquire a No. 1 center. A top center had always eluded their roster for the duration of their existence. And the reports of Bill Guerin being interested were everywhere. Seemingly, the first-time GM was negotiating with Buffalo on a potential trade. Eichel’s $10 million cap hit was a large sticking point, particularly in Minnesota's case. Eventually, Guerin backed out, partially due to the cap hit, but also due to the assets the Sabers were asking the Wild to depart from.

    Then came the bombshell just a few months into 2021. Buffalo had traded Eichel to Vegas. What? How?! Sure, the Knights had a few players on long-term injured reserve and could fit Eichel into their cap space. Still, those players were eventually going to return. How on Earth was Vegas going to make this work?

    Perhaps here is where Minnesota can learn from a team that is on the doorsteps of winning the Stanley Cup. Vegas essentially did two things the Wild were unwilling to do in acquiring the game-changing center.

    Acquire Star Players and Deal with the Salary Cap Implications Later

    Minnesota chose to bypass a potential Eichel trade mainly due to the constraints it would place on their salary cap situation. While they would have had to move key roster pieces to make such a move work, they could have pulled the trigger.

    That summer, they opted to sign role players to fill out their roster. Alex Goligoski ($5 million) and Dmitry Kulikov ($2.25 million) signed as free agents to round out the defense. In turn, neither player were key contributors to the lineup the following spring. The Wild traded Kulikov the next summer.

    Part of the reason Minnesota dropped from the Eichel sweepstakes was their propensity to maintain the fringes of their roster.

    On the other hand, Vegas decided Eichel’s star power outweighed the depth they would lose in obtaining his contract. And it’s paid dividends for them.

    Valuing Proven Star-Level Talent Over the Unknown

    The other part of this trade is the assets going the other way to Buffalo, of course. Vegas departed with fan-favorite Alex Tuch, former first-round pick Peyton Krebs, a first-round pick and a second-round pick for Eichel and a third-round pick. That’s a lot. But they were betting on Eichel successfully rehabbing from his neck injury and returning to form. To them, the assets were worth the player.

    The Wild could have matched or even exceeded that trade. Tuch was a key target for the Sabres because they wanted an NHL-level player who could help their roster compete. But it just so happens that Minnesota had a player Buffalo wanted in Jordan Greenway, as evidenced by their trade for the power forward this past season.

    Greenway may not be of the same caliber as Tuch, but the Wild could have offset that disparity with a more highly regarded prospect in Marco Rossi compared to how Krebs was viewed at the time. Rossi was a year younger than Krebs and drafted in the top-10. Without a doubt, Krebs was the lower-valued prospect.

    Let me ask you, as of right now, would you have traded Greenway, Rossi, a first and second-round pick for Eichel's services? I’d imagine nearly everyone in the State of Hockey would pounce at the opportunity, knowing what we know now with Rossi’s development troubles.

    Yes, this is all just revisionist history. But that’s the point. The lesson learned from not executing the potential trade is the Wild should proceed with the Golden Knights' mentality. The odds of even your most highly-touted prospects one day reaching heights similar to that of Eichel’s caliber are minuscule.

    This isn’t a call for someone in the State of Hockey to sprint to their garage and convert their Honda Civic into a modern-day DeLorean so we can return to the summer of 2021 and plead with Guerin to execute the trade. This is a call to the Minnesota Wild to learn from their Eichel trade fallout mistakes and to glean a little wisdom from their rivals.

    The next time a star center becomes available for trade, deal with the cap implications down the road. Sacrifice your replaceable depth for star talent. You may have affection for your top prospects, but they aren’t a sure thing.

    Vegas knew this before the Wild did, and we are seeing them ride their superstar center to the Stanley Cup Final as a result.

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    I think it was timing and cost ahead of other contracts that were in the air. Rossi was still unknown due to his heart injury. Greenway wasn't as apathetic at the time.

    I like the idea and premise. I think you're right the Wild need to get a top center when they can, even if the cost is high. I think GMBG has been looking for the right move and has the guts to do it. The time has not yet been right. The options haven't been perfect. The cost and timing has been less than ideal. How much risk is too much risk when Guerin has a 40K foot-view of the long-game?

    Let's hope the Wild can capitalize when the next good chance comes up and the fit is good. JT Miller was on the wish-list too when he was being talked about. Guerin's radar is turned on for top six centers IMO.

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    The premise makes sense, but the Vegas Knights have zero dead cap space this year, meaning they could fit Eichel and Chandler Stephenson, their top 2 regular season scorers, under the salary cap and still have $2M more to spend on the rest of their roster compared to the Wild.

    With the no movement clauses that Guerin had, and $14.74 in dead cap, it would have been really hard to retain Eichel, Kaprizov, Boldy, and Eriksson Ek along with the defensive core.

    They could not easily ship out other contracts due to the NMCs. They would have traded Greenway and Dumba, and a bunch of picks/prospects, but as you see now, the Wild don't have cap space for Greenway and Dumba either.

    I'm not saying they shouldn't have traded for Eichel, but given his injury situation and the cap space issues, I can see why Guerin was hesitant.

    At the time, Fiala had not been turned into Faber/Ohgren, so they still had that to figure out as well. 2 years down the road, Guerin is going to be all over moves like this, and he's been accumulating assets so he can make moves like this when the team is ready to really compete.

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    Even if we got Eichel, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to win in the playoffs.

    we would have had to give up some of our best up and coming players and we’ve never had a lot of them to spare.

    Vegas had pretty much all the pieces they needed to win in the playoffs except a true number one center.

    The Wild trading for Eichel is a lot different situation than Vegas trading for him.

    they were in a much better situation so no, I don’t think it was the wrong decision for the Wild to not trade for him.

    you do a trade like that if that’s one of the only areas of need.

    We still would have had significant holes so comparing isn’t the same.

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    Perfect example is Toronto. They had Taveres, Matthews, and O'Rielly down the middle. Came up short. Now I think there's other problems there, but the long-term plan has to stay a priority over chasing. XGMCF was good at losing sight of the big picture and it cost the Wild organization with the consequences.

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    I wonder where the Wild medical staff stood on the procedure Eichel wanted to have? I think that risk was more than the Wild could give. Eichel would have been on LTIR when we traded for him for quite awhile, but what would we have done this year?

    Like Wiggins says, you deal with that later. Perhaps it was promoting some not quite ready yet youth?  Sometimes you have to have trial by fire, even though it is obvious Shooter prefers the develop in the minors process. 

    If we had traded for Eichel, which draft picks would we have missed? And, we also need to wonder if Eichel even wanted to come here? I continue to believe that Fiala had no intention of signing here longterm, and he wanted a warm climate. Calgary was shoved into a corner when Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Hockey had no intentions of signing longterm up there either. 

    I think this may open something up for us.....possibly. Who would want to come to Minnesota? I would assume there are several "sons" of the state who would welcome a trade to their home town team. I think someone like Faber was ecstatic about getting traded here. Parise was another when he chose free agency, and maybe Suter to some extent. Do we have any centers from this state who might want to come home?

    Or, is this a destination place to play. There are many guys in hockey who are excellent, like, Staal was, who grew up in a rural area. We also have Kaprizov as a calling card and many players would want to play with him. What does MN offer? It doesn't take long to move outside the Twin Cities loops into a more rural setting. A lot of these players did not grow up under the bright lights of a city like NYC. Yet, MN offers a mid-market team that can act like a large market because hockey is so popular in the state. I think many, many players would see this as a destination, and feel very comfortable with the community.  

    More so than any other sport, MN should be a haven for good hockey players. I think this will be a very good recruiting tool for the Wild and should be exploited as much as possible. So, if we're going to learn the lessons of Vegas, who are our next targets? I think I read that Draisaitl needs a new contract in '25!

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    While I fully believe the Wild need a legitimate #1 center, that is not the only deficiency facing the Wild. Had the Wild acquired Eichel, they would have likely done so at the expense of other roster spots. They would have Eichel, but then face glaring holes at other spots. 

    Given how things turned out with Fiala, maybe we could have traded Fiala to Buffalo, along with Dumba and Greenway plus a 1st rounder for Eichel.

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    Couple things:

    • In an interview, Eichel stated that he was convinced for an entire week that he was headed to Minnesota. He didn't elaborate too much on the point since the interview took place after he was dealt to Vegas but I did get the impression that he was excited to join the Wild....or really any playoff team. 
    • Buffalo fans said the trade package they received from Vegas was exactly what Adams was asking for, minus the extra 3rd and replace the 2nd rd pick w/ a 1st. More specifically, he wanted
      • A Top 6 F or Top 4 D in their mid-twenties signed to a long-term deal with a team friendly AAV who'd serve as a leader, mentor, and someone who actually wanted to play for Buffalo to help change the toxic culture (something we should know all about after seeing how drastically the locker room improved after buying out Parise & Suter).
      • An A-level prospect or the team's top prospect
      • 2 1st round picks

    We initially inquired about a trade prior to the 2021 Draft. Our position looked promising given the criteria Adams was demanding:

    • Top 6 F / Top 4 D: JEEK, Fiala, Dumba, Greenway (culture, would need to be packaged)
      • Fiala - Adams really liked as he felt he needed a scorer (remember this was before Thompson & the gang exploded). However, it didn't sound like Fiala would be interested in signing a long term extension and Adams was specifically requesting a player that would be there for the long term to help stabilize things. So Fiala was out.
      • Dumba - Addressed a need of theirs (Top 4 RHD), emotional leader. However, like Fiala, there was uncertainty around whether he'd sign on a long term extension on what was expected to be a team going through yet another rebuild.
      • JEEK - Signed to a team friendly 8-year extension, leader. Adams would need to decide between a two-way center (which he had in Cozens) or Tuch (Buffalo native, emotional leader, goal scoring PFW). Adams really liked Tuch. Similar to Guerin targeting Faber. Once they target a player, it's difficult for them to remain open minded.
      • Greenway - emotional leader, locker room presence, Top 9 F, would need to be packaged with another player -- possibly Dumba.
    • Top Prospect: Boldy or Rossi (Adams had zero interest in anyone else)
      • At one point, Adams was adamant that he wanted BOTH Boldy & Rossi -- which we obviously refused. 
      • Then it was between Boldy vs. Rossi. Boldy was off the table.
      • Both GMs were uncertain with Rossi.
      • For Guerin, top centers are really difficult to acquire. Is it worth trading the top center prospect this team has had since Granlund?
      • For Adams, it hinged on Rossi's health. Size concerns didn't really matter as the team was already loaded with giants. 
    • 2 1sts: We owned 2 1sts in the 2021 Draft and a 1st in 2022 & 2023
      • 2021: Wallstedt & Lambos
      • 2022: Yurov (We didn't have the Öhgren pick at the time)
      • 2023: ???
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