Could we be nearing an end to the Jack Eichel saga with the Buffalo Sabres?
It has seemed like a never-ending cycle of reports indicating that talks between the Sabres and other teams are heating up regarding Eichel, only for those reports to be shot down with talks that discussions have suddenly "cooled off".
However, as ESPN NHL reporter Emily Kaplan reported during the first intermission of Tuesday night's Sabres matchup with the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo continues to inch towards a potential deal, and it may be down to just two "finalists": the Calgary Flames and the Vegas Golden Knights.
"There was a lot of work done over the weekend, and [Tuesday] I was told a trade is at the one-yard line, except there's still some final details they've got to figure out," Kaplan said. "I'm told that Buffalo [general manager] Kevyn Adams is working extremely hard on this to get a trade done, however, he's also been very firm in his stance and neither Calgary nor Vegas has met him on his full demands yet."
Kaplan also confirmed on Tuesday that both Calgary and Vegas have no objections to Eichel getting his preferred artificial disk replacement surgery. That part of the discussions is not delaying a trade from being finalized.
David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period also backed Kaplan's report on Wednesday, saying it sounds like the Flames and Golden Knights are the two frontrunners in trade discussions.
"I’m sure there are other teams lurking in the weeds, but it certainly sounds like Vegas and Calgary are the frontrunners," Pagnotta writes. "In fact, according to a well-placed source, I was told Tuesday evening the Knights believe they have tabled, what they consider to be, their best package for Eichel, and it is now squarely in the hands of Sabres GM Kevyn Adams.
"The Sabres can either accept the deal, try to (once again) counter, or decline and go with another team’s offer."
The Golden Knights have been a team long reported to be interested in Eichel's services. Back in July, Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News tweeted the Sabres were asking for a package from Vegas that included forwards Peyton Krebs and Reilly Smith, defenseman Nic Hague and a first round pick.
Vegas does have a healthy amount of assets that would be enticing to the Sabres in a potential trade. Krebs would likely be at the top of the list, being a former first round pick (17th overall) of the Golden Knights in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Vegas is a very well-built team lacking only one piece from potentially getting over the hump in the Stanley Cup Playoffs - a No. 1 center. When healthy, Eichel is, arguably, one of the best centers in the entire National Hockey League.
If Eichel was to be traded to the Golden Knights in the very near future and go under the knife as soon as possible, he could potentially be ready to make a late-season return for Vegas in time for the postseason. While Eichel would be able to get back to on-ice activities as soon as six weeks after his artificial disk replacement procedure, it will be, at least, a minimum of three months before he is cleared to play.
If he does return this season and suits up for the Golden Knights, he could line up and play with the likes of Max Pacioterry, Mark Stone, Alex Tuch, Smith and/or Jonathan Marchessault, depending on who is healthy and who is on the roster near the end of the season.
However, the Golden Knights will have some work to do in order to make an Eichel trade work with the salary cap. Vegas can place Eichel on long-term injured reserve after acquiring the 25-year-old, but they first have to fit his $10 million cap hit into their salary cap at the time of a trade.
The Flames have also been a team speculated to be in the mix for Eichel, though Calgary has often not been talked about much as a top contender to land his services.
Like the Golden Knights, the Flames have a number of prospects and players on the cusp of breaking into the NHL that would be of interest for Buffalo. A few of these players include former first round picks Jakob Pelletier (2019), Connor Zary (2020) and Matt Coronato (2021).
However, also like their counterpart in the Eichel sweepstakes, Calgary will have to do some work with the salary cap ahead of acquiring the star center. Though, it may not be as extensive as the Golden Knights, as the Flames currently have a little more than $1 million in projected cap space.
The hockey world will continue to wait and see if the Sabres and one of these two teams - or someone else, for that matter - can push trade talks past the metaphorical goal line and into the end zone in the coming hours/days/weeks... whenever.