Looking Forward in the Wake of the Eichel Deal

Kevyn Adams pulled out the final piece of his rebuild in dealing Jack Eichel to Vegas on Thursday. The move the entire hockey world had been waiting on since the spring was finally completed, ending a months-long saga once and for all.

The Sabres come away with Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a first round pick and a second in exchange for their wantaway star. It’s a package that on the heels of Thursday’s deal, feels mostly adequate, if not slightly underwhelming. Of course, you’re always going to want more when you’re trading a player of Eichel’ stature. That’s just par for the course.

Overall, I think Adams did well here. If a deal with Vegas was going to be made, Krebs was the piece they needed to get. Add in the first-round pick with fairly minimal protections (pick pushes to 2023 if Vegas is picking in the top 10) and two key futures that were believed to be q requirement for the deal were included. Tuch comes over on a team-friendly deal with plenty of term. At 25 he’s right in the window the Sabres should be looking for as they build out the roster. Maybe an additional mid-level prospect like Lucas Elvenes would have moved the needle a bit more. Or perhaps building a condition on to the 2023 second rounder that would make it a first based on Eichel reaching some basic games played benchmarks beefs this up a bit. But given the circumstances and the leverage each side had; I don’t think Adams deserves too much heat for this deal. At least in the short term.

The real value of this deal will play itself out in the long term for both sides. Particularly the Sabres. At best the first-round pick will be a year from contributing, if not longer. The second rounder will require more than that. Which is fine. The Sabres have wisely stockpiled picks and prospects over the last six months, an effort that has started to replenish a depleted pipeline. Krebs also represents a great deal of long-term value for the club. He’s only seen action in 13 NHL games between last spring and the start of this year. What he has to offer as an NHL player is still an untapped well and given his pedigree as a prospect, should be exciting for Sabres fans to track.

There’s no need to rehash the joy the fanbase had when he arrived or the numerous mistakes and failures that ultimately led to him being traded. There is a baker’s dozen blog posts and news columns detailing just that. Eichel was a phenomenal player and I’m glad I was able to see him in a Sabres uniform. It’s unfortunate that he won’t be able to end his career here as well, but that’s the reality of the situation. As we get further from this deal and further from this era of Sabres hockey, moving on from Eichel will likely register somewhere in the neighborhood of moving on from Pierre Turgeon. Despite each player’s respective draft pedigree and immense talent, the eras they were removed from were (and are) largely inconsequential to the larger story of the franchise itself. Neither were lucky enough to see the team reach new heights while they wore blue and gold and their departures will settle as footnotes rather than hallmarks in the annals of franchise history.

Eichel’s departure will remain more focused in the short term, of course, as his recovery from surgery is expected to make Vegas one of the most formidable teams in the league. It’s going to be frustrating as the Sabres short term outlook is obviously far more undesirable.

But this trade offers optimism for the future. Maybe you’ve grown immune to the idea of what picks and prospects can mean to an NHL team, but at this point it’s about all we’ve got. And given the choice, I’ll take the promise that Krebs, Tuch and the picks can offer over kicking rocks due to the current state of the team.

Alex Tuch should fit in well in Buffalo. He’s a big body player who has a boatload of skill to go with that size. If there’s one thing the Sabres have lacked in recent years, it’s been a proper power forward with talent. Tuch fills that role beautifully and should complement Buffalo’s other young forwards in the top six. Tuch hit 20 goals in 2018-19 and played above that pace last year when he scored 18 in 55. That’s an excellent piece to have signed for four more seasons at age 25.

I’m far more excited about what Krebs has to offer though. On one hand it’s too bad that he’s starting in Rochester, because I think most of us have the desire to see the new toy up close and personal right away. But on the other, it’s understandable to let him ease into the new situation and not get thrust into a difficult position with a team whose recent results have been troubling.

Krebs is still firmly a prospect, despite being NHL ready by most accounts. We’ll see how long his stay in Rochester winds up being as he rolled up five points in just two games for Henderson this year before getting brought up to Vegas. But his profile is impressive. He had a strong junior career in the WHL and excels as a passer and playmaker. I remember some compliments to his ability to play a 200-foot game during his draft year and his skating has earned similar praise. It’s a profile which earned him a top-10 ranking among North American skaters from central scouting and ratings upwards of the top-five from others.

What excites me most about Krebs is injecting yet another highly talented center prospect into Buffalo’s pipeline. He and Dylan Cozens came out of that 2019 draft and depending where the Sabres pick in 2021, they could come away with yet another in June. Krebs’ skillset complements that of Cozens and some of Buffalo’s other high-end prospects nicely.

I’m hopeful what this crop of prospects can bring to the Sabres. I’m aware of where it can fall short, but I’m looking forward to what this group can bring and I’m excited that Krebs will be a part of it. Does that mean the Sabres will ultimately “win” the Eichel trade? I wouldn’t go that far. But I feel more hopeful than I did at any point waiting for this trade to be completed.

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