News broke Thursday morning that the Vegas Golden Knights completed a trade with the Buffalo Sabres for their captain, Jack Eichel.
Eichel missed almost the entire 2020-21 season due to a neck injury in which he waited all offseason to address. I've written several times about the strained relationship between the Sabres and Jack Eichel. The conflict between the two parties had been ongoing for a few years now, but it seems to finally be over. The drama came to a head late in the offseason this year, after Eichel's agent released the following statement:
The statement by Eichel's camp came after it was reported that the Buffalo Sabres and Eichel couldn't agree on a proper procedure for which Eichel should undergo in order to take care of his ailing neck injury. Eichel and his representatives wanted to give Artificial Disk Replacement surgery a shot, and although Eichel's doctor strongly suggested that this surgery was the best course of action, this procedure has never been performed on an NHL player, never mind an expensive superstar of Eichel's caliber. The Buffalo front office was understandably concerned over letting their franchise star undergo an unproven operation in hockey players, and instead suggested fusion surgery.
Under the current NHL collective bargaining agreement, teams have the final say on how injuries will be addressed, not the players or the agents. Eichel held out and never received either surgery, Buffalo stripped him of the captaincy shortly before the regular season started, and now Eichel is a Vegas Golden Knight.
Had he underwent one of the two procedures six months ago when he should have, he probably would have been back on the ice by now. Instead, Vegas receives the young star still needing treatment, and are now granting him permission to receive the operation of his choice. Eichel will receive Artificial Disk Replacement surgery as early as this week, and the Golden Knights say that there is a "chance" that Eichel is back in action in as little as 4-5 months.
If all goes well and Eichel returns in 4-5 months, it'll be just in time to help Vegas make a deep run into the playoffs. Vegas has come oh-so close to winning a Stanley Cup since their inaugural season in 2017-18, where they made the Cup Final that year, only to lose to the Washington Capitals in five games. The following year in 2019, Vegas was eliminated in the first round by the San Jose Sharks, and then in 2020 and 2021 made it to the Conference Final in both years.
Eichel is the piece that the Knights hope will finally put them over the top, and it is no doubt that their roster is scary with his addition assuming he comes back and performs like the vintage Jack Eichel that we're used to seeing.
Vegas has some serious shuffling to do if Eichel does in fact come back this season. The Golden Knights will obviously be placing him on the long time injured reserve (LTIR) so his 8-year, $80 million contract -- of which he still has five years to go counting this year -- won't impact their salary cap just yet, but it will severely once he does hit the ice again, as no salary was retained by Buffalo in the deal.
The Golden Knights are struggling early in the season, but it's not due to their stars not being able to perform. Vegas currently has five key players out with injuries, including captain Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty, newly acquired former second overall pick Nolan Patrick, Zach Whitecloud, and the most recent being William Karlsson, who is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Mark Stone has resumed skating but has not practiced with the team, Pacioretty is expected back in late November, there is no timetable for Nolan Patrick's return, and Whitecloud remains week-to-week.
There is no official word as of right now on how Vegas will navigate this cap crisis, but as it stands, Vegas will now roster three players who have a cap hit of at least $8.8 million per year over the next few years, ouch. Kiss any big moves in free-agency goodbye unless they can move some contracts around.
Buffalo announced that they will be assigning the 20 year-old Peyton Krebs to their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans so he can continue to develop, as there is no rush to win now in Buffalo. Krebs was selected by Vegas in the first round of the 2019 NHL draft.
Alex Tuch underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason and will remain sidelined until January, landing him on Buffalo's LTIR. Buffalo is now stacked with picks, and will retry their failed rebuild, commencing Buffalo Rebuild 2.0