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If Eichel Was Traded to Calgary, Not Vegas

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Jack Eichel trade Calgary Flames Buffalo Sabres Vegas Golden Knights

Revisionist history is always fun, especially surrounding some of the bigger transactions made around the NHL. When Jack Eichel was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights, Emily Kaplan of ESPN reported that the Buffalo Sabres were also deep in trade discussions with the Calgary Flames. While the makeup of a trade to Calgary would look similar, the results would be much different.

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As a refresher, the final terms of the deal with Vegas saw the Sabres ship Jack Eichel and a 2023 third-round draft selection. In exchange, Buffalo received Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, a 2022 first-rounder, and a 2023 second-round selection. The Golden Knights missed the playoffs that season, allowing the Sabres to select Noah Ostlund at 16th overall in 2022.

The 2023 second-rounder was sent to the Minnesota Wild along with a fifth-round pick in 2024 for forward Jordan Greenway.

Flames Deal

The Calgary Flames were looking for a top-end center to complement their star wingers at the time – Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk. While Elias Lindholm filled the role admirably, the offensive upside compared to Eichel is unmatched.

Top prospect Connor Zary was rumored to be the deal’s centerpiece, much like Krebs was. At the time, both players were considered the best forwards in their respective teams’ pipelines.

As for Calgary’s version of Alex Tuch, a few names were under consideration. Andrew Mangiapane was the one the Sabres likely favored most. He was in his age 25 season and the underlying numbers had him poised for a breakout.

Sean Monahan, on the other hand, was losing favor in the Flames’ organization. A potential Eichel acquisition pushes Lindholm and Mikael Backlund down the depth chart and makes Monahan expendable. Swapping centers would be a losing proposition for the Sabres in almost any scenario, so the position wasn’t a heavy priority.

Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson were also interesting names on Calgary’s roster. Reuniting friends and Bostonians Eichel and Hanifin was on the Flames’ radar. Andersson was stepping into his own as a top-four defenseman, making him more of a pipe dream.

For the sake of comparing which deal would be better, let’s theoretically say the Sabres acquired Zary, Mangiapane, Calgary’s 2022 first, and 2023 second.

Zary vs. Krebs

In the final months of 2021, Krebs was considered to have as much, if not more, offensive upside than Zary. Fast forward to the present day, and that is not the case anymore. Krebs has established himself as a bottom-six forward, while Zary stepped right into Calgary’s top-six as a rookie this past season.

Peyton Krebs Buffalo Sabres player comps

Based on his player comps, Krebs profiles as a bottom-six center who can complement a scoring line in spot duty. What makes the player comparisons even more defined is that ice time and usage are not a part of the profiling. These categories are based solely on rate stats, showing little to draw from Krebs’ potential.

Connor Zary Calgary Flames player comps

Zary showed more in his rookie season than Krebs has over the past three, as evidenced by the stronger attributes. Playing primarily with Nazem Kadri, he displayed good offensive traits while maintaining quality defensive play.

The most similar players to Zary are all on the verge of being breakout stars, except for the veteran Andrew Cogliano. This higher anticipated ceiling vaults the Flames forward well ahead of Krebs in future impact projections.

Mangiapane vs. Tuch

Alex Tuch has been the revelation of the Eichel deal. Considered a good middle-six winger at the time, he has raised his game to be one of the more dominant power forwards at even strength. Tuch also added a penalty-killing element to his arsenal, increasing his value to the Sabres.

Alex Tuch Buffalo Sabres player comps

You could argue that an Eichel for Tuch one-for-one trade isn’t much of a drop-off. For a slight decrease in point production, the Sabres gained a leader in the locker room and a change in approach. The most similar players around the league to Tuch play a heavy, nose-for-the-net style.

Andrew Mangiapane Calgary Flames player comps

On the other hand, Mangiapane is less of a shooter but more focused on driving play up the ice. His point totals are well below Eichel and Tuch’s, but his value is through playmaking and having a positive impact on teammates.

Mangiapane’s two-way play is a different element than what Tuch brings. He’s not a game-breaker, rather, his value is displayed through his versatility throughout the lineup over the season.

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Comparing Draft Selections

Vegas missed the playoffs by one spot after acquiring Eichel, granting the Sabres the 16th pick in the 2022 draft. If a deal were done with Calgary instead, Buffalo would select about 10 spots later. That would likely mean no Noah Ostlund. The Flames ended up trading the pick to Montreal in a deal for Tyler Toffoli.

Since the Sabres were eager to draft Jiri Kulich at pick 28, it’s safe to say they’d happily select him at 26. That would leave toolsy prospects like Maveric Lamoureaux, Brad Lambert, or Isaac Howard as alternative options two picks later.

The second-round selection theoretically could still be used in a trade for Greenway, so there are no anticipated changes surrounding that pick.

The Better Eichel Trade

There’s an adage in the sports trading sphere that the team who received the best player won the deal. That would make the Eichel acquirers the trade winners no matter what.

The sum can make up for it though. Comparing whether a Flames deal would be more beneficial than the Golden Knights deal yields close results.

Three years later, there is little doubt that Zary is a more intriguing player than Krebs. Tuch has the edge on Mangiapane, but not enough of a gap to make up for the one between the “centerpieces” of the trades.

Per data from PuckLuck, Zary and Mangiapane are top-five players on the Flames in wins above replacement in 2023-2024. Meanwhile, Krebs is well outside the top 10 on the Sabres’ roster.

Noah Ostlund is a more interesting prospect than anyone the Sabres would’ve selected in the Flames’ spot and the key to determining if the Sabres did the right deal.

The trade with Calgary looks to be the better one at this point. If Ostlund becomes a top-six center and Brad Lambert and Issac Howard reach only a bottom-six ceiling, the deal with the Golden Knights might’ve been saved by Vegas’ regular season collapse.