Two down. One more to go.
A day after sending Rasmus Ristolainen to Philadelphia, the Buffalo Sabres traded Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers in exchange for top goalie prospect Devon Levi and a first-round pick in 2022.
Now, the waiting game begins to see where Jack Eichel ends up.
The Sabres captain, who has been out since March because of a herniated disc in his neck, has not been shy in his displeasure with a team that last made the playoffs a decade ago — having finished with the worst-overall record in four of those 10 years — and by the looks of it could go another decade without qualifying.
“There has been a lot of conversations on a lot of different things on our team, and certainly a player of that level there’s going to be phone calls,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said on Friday. “I said from Day One that we have to look at every possible scenario and be willing to see: ‘Does this make sense for us and why?’ and ask those hard questions. We’ll continue to do that. We’re having a lot of conversations.”
The challenge is whether Buffalo, which received the No. 14 pick (Isak Rosen), a second-rounder in next year’s draft, and defenceman Robert Hagg from Philadelphia in the Ristolainen deal, can get enough of a return for a top-line centre whose status for next season is in doubt. Though Eichel reportedly has been skating in Boston, there is no confirmation whether he will opt for surgery or continue to rehab.
The Ducks, Kings and Rangers appear to have the most interest, though reports suggest the Sabres’ huge asking price has been a major sticking point so far. That doesn’t mean a deal won’t get done sometime this summer.
Either way, with Reinhart and Ristolainen gone and No. 1 overall pick Owen Power joining 2018 No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin on Buffalo’s blue line, a new era is about to begin.
CHICAGO AT CROSSROADS
While the Sabres took a step towards rebuilding their ongoing rebuild by trading two core pieces from their roster, the Chicago Blackhawks took a step towards winning a fourth championship in 12 years with the acquisition of defenceman Seth Jones.
It was a bold move for a team — and a general manager — that finds itself at a crossroads.
After allegations surfaced that an assistant coach had sexually assaulted two players in 2010 — an incident that GM Stan Bowman might have had previous knowledge of and reportedly did nothing about — many had been calling for Bowman’s resignation. But in acquiring a future Norris Trophy winner for a prospect, a first-round draft pick in 2022, and a second-rounder in 2021, Bowman might have saved his job for the time being.
In the process, he might have given second life to a team which missed the playoffs for the third time in four years.
“Thrilled to be able to add someone like Seth Jones to our team,” said Bowman, who signed the 27-year-old to an eight-year extension that carries an annual cap hit of $9.5 million. “He’s an impact defenceman that we’ve been searching for — for quite some time. And to finally be able to add him to our group here is a huge move for the whole group. I think it changes the complexion of our defense in particular but our team in general.”
With Duncan Keith having already been traded to Edmonton, suddenly the Blackhawks don’t seem so old anymore.
A lot of their success next year will be predicated on whether captain Jonathan Toews can return from a “chronic immune response syndrome” that forced him to miss all of last season. But with Patrick Kane still performing as a top-5 scorer and Jones locked in as the No. 1 defenceman, it looks like the Blackhawks are back.
HOW MUCH FOR HUGHES?
The bar has been set.
While Cale Makar might be slightly ahead of Quinn Hughes at this stage of their young careers, the six-year, $54-million extension that the Colorado Avalanche defenceman signed on Saturday should have an impact on contract negotiations with the Vancouver Canucks.
Makar has scored 20 goals and 94 points in 101 games since entering the league in 2019. Hughes, who is one year younger, has 11 goals and 97 points in 129 games during that same span.
Simply put, if Makar is worth $9-million annually and Miro Heiskanen, who earlier this week signed an eight-year deal, is worth $8.45-million, does that mean Hughes is worth somewhere in the range of $8-million? If so, what does that mean for Elias Pettersson, who is also a restricted free agent this summer?
It’s a question that becomes difficult to answer for a team that just took on the final six years of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract, which carries a cap hit of $7.26-million, and will have to also re-sign Conor Garland to a deal believed to be north of $4-million annually.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
Let the tanking begin. The draft is barely over, but already it seems like teams such as Buffalo, Columbus and Arizona are positioning themselves for 2022 and 2023, where can’t-miss prospects Shane Wright and Connor Bedard have the potential to be the most impactful forwards since Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews went No. 1 overall in back-to-back years. “You’re looking at guys who are franchise players, more so than this year,” said North American Central Scouting’s Mark Seidel. “If you’re going to be bad, it’s not bad to be bad in the next two years.” … Shane Doan did not personally draft his son to the Arizona Coyotes with the 37th overall pick. But as the team’s chief hockey development officer, he will have no one to blame but himself if Josh fails to reach the NHL. No pressure, dad … Best name in the draft goes to Cameron Whynot, who Calgary selected with the 89th pick, because, well, why not? … Honest question: would the University of Michigan, which could have four of the top-5 picks in the draft playing for them next season, beat the Detroit Red Wings in an exhibition game?
HERE’S ONE FOR YOU
Is Chicago the new city of brotherly love? A day after uniting Seth Jones with his brother Caleb, the Blackhawks used the 62nd overall pick on Colton Dach, whose older brother was the third overall pick in 2019 … Jones was not the only player that the Blue Jackets lost on the weekend. The team also traded Cam Atkinson to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek, a move that returned Voracek to the city where he spent the first three years of his career as a seventh-overall pick in 2007 … While Voracek isn’t the top-line centre the Blue Jackets had been looking for, the fact that the playmaking winger led the Flyers in assists in each of the past two years means he should have no trouble getting Patrik Laine the puck … Hockey I.Q. is often listed as an important attribute for NHL prospects. But when it comes to Matthew Beniers, who went No. 2 overall to Seattle, his intelligence is not just limited to hockey. “Not many times when you’re interviewing a kid for the NHL draft that he tells you he’s doing pre-med in college, so obviously a very bright kid,” said Kraken GM Ron Francis, who probably sees a lot of himself in the two-way centre out of the University of Michigan.