Why Sharks should worry about Sabres possibly trading Eichel


The Sharks should keep an eye on what's happening in Buffalo, N.Y.

Sabres star Jack Eichel acknowledged there's "a disconnect" between him and the Buffalo front office, seemingly planting the seeds for an offseason trade.

But that doesn't mean he'll know the way to San Jose.

Normally, a disgruntled superstar should be music to general manager Doug Wilson's ears, as evidenced by his history of swinging blockbuster trades. From Joe Thornton in 2005 to Erik Karlsson in 2018, Wilson has pounced when elite players have been available via trade.

Eichel fits that billing. In all five seasons before his coronavirus pandemic-altered, injury-shortened 2020-21 campaign, Eichel scored at least 24 goals and 32 assists. The center scored a career-high 36 goals in 68 games last year, and he turns 25 in October.

You can see why the Sharks should be interested, considering Tomas Hertl can become an unrestricted free agent next summer and prospects Thomas Bordeleau and Ozzy Wiesblatt are years away from their NHL debuts. After two years outside of the playoffs, Eichel -- who's signed through 2026 at $10 million per year -- would instantly improve the Sharks and make them younger at a key position.

The problem for San Jose? Its biggest rivals can make much better offers.

After years of pushing their chips to the center of the table in pursuit of a Stanley Cup, the Sharks' prospect cupboard is fairly bare. Bordeleau, Wiesblatt and defenseman Ryan Merkley have shown promise, while Mario Ferraro and Nikolai Knyzhov have carved out regular roles along San Jose's blue line. Outside of them, the Sharks don't really have a "can't-miss" prospect.

The Sharks are flush with neither draft picks -- seven in each of the next two drafts -- nor salary-cap space, with a cap hit of nearly $72 million projected by Cap Friendly. The Seattle Kraken could ease some of the cap burden, but depending on the contract traded, San Jose might have to also give up a pick or prospect.

The Los Angeles Kings don't have those problems. Chris Peters, formerly of ESPN, ranked the Kings' farm system the best in the NHL this past December, and LA has nearly $20 million in cap space with only a handful of depth players to re-sign. Plus, the Kings have eight picks in each of the next two drafts.

The Anaheim Ducks don't have as much draft capital as their SoCal rivals, but their prospect list and salary-cap space puts them in a much better position to land Eichel than the Sharks. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale -- a 2020 first-round draft pick -- and center Trevor Zegras -- a 2019 first-rounder -- are better prospects than any of San Jose's, and Anaheim has better lottery odds this year, too.

The Colorado Avalanche won't be in the Sharks' division next season, but the Avs will remain the class of the Western Conference. Colorado's prospect pool is right around top third of the league by ESPN (ninth) and The Athletic's (12th) estimation, and the Avalanche have just under $23 million in cap space heading into the summer. They only have three picks in this year's draft, and including a defenseman such as Ryan Graves -- rather than lose him to the Kraken for nothing -- in the trade is something the Sharks can't match without debilitating their own blue line.

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You can't rule out the Sharks' pursuit of a big fish, and San Jose could still have the bones of an enticing offer. That's especially true if lottery luck falls the Sharks' way this summer.

But in addition to asking, at that point, whether they'd be drafting a top prospect or trading for Eichel, the Sharks would also have to ask if their offer would be more enticing than those of their rivals.

If it's not, San Jose could have to contend with Eichel and Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid in its own conference -- if not the division, depending upon where Eichel is traded -- for the foreseeable future.

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