Friends, it appears we’re getting to the proverbial pointy end of things in regards to a trade involving disgruntled (and injured) Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel. ESPN’s Emily Kaplan is just the latest of a long line of distinguished hockey reporters linking the Calgary Flames as a finalist for Eichel’s services (along with the Vegas Golden Knights).
The salary cap implications of such a deal point to some reasons to make (or avoid) the swap.
There are three things to bear in mind with an Eichel trade.
  1. A team has to be cap compliant (e.g., under the $81.5 million cap ceiling) after acquring Eichel. (He can be placed on long-term injury reserve after the fact, but when he arrives he needs to fid under the ceiling.)
  2. A team has to be cap compliant in order to activate Eichel from LTIR.
  3. In order to make the first two points work math-wise, there will be holes made in the existing Flames roster.
Let’s dive in.
The Flames have about $1.05 million in cap space right now. That means in order to accommodate Eichel’s $10 million cap hit, they would need to move out $8.95 million in cap hits (either before the trade or within the trade) from the existing NHL roster. For most of us doing napkin math in the press box, that probably involves Sean Monahan ($6.375 million) but probably also includes the likes of Juuso Välimäki ($1.55 million), Dillon Dube ($2.3 million) or Andrew Mangiapane ($2.425 million). The thought is that Buffalo will want a bunch of fun young assets, but they’ll necessarily need to eat a bigger ticket contract to make the math work (as in: Monahan).
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So for argument’s sake, let’s presume that the Sabres get Monahan, Välimäki and Dube, plus two of Matthew Coronato, Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier (let’s say Zary stays because he’s injured), plus a 2022 first round pick and a conditional 2023 pick linked to how many games (or points) Eichel gets. Those three roster players out the door frees up $10.225 million for Eichel and the club’s active roster goes from 23 players to 21 players.
Now, since Eichel is going to be out for longer than 10 games (or 24 days), the Flames could place him on the long-term injury reserve. That’s great, because they need to fill three holes in their NHL roster and have just $225,000 to do it now. So they could place Eichel on LTIR immediately and be able to spend $9.775 million above the NHL’s cap ceiling until he’s back. (The overspend amount is calculated as the cap hit of the injured player minus the team’s cap space when they place them on LTIR.)
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Here’s what the team looks like while Eichel is on LTIR, assuming they recall Glenn Gawdin and Byron Froese so they have (a) enough centres and (b) an extra forward:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Coleman – Backlund – Pitlick
Mangiapane – Gawdin – Ritchie
Lucic – Richardson – Lewis
(Froese)
Hanifin – Andersson
Kylington – Tanev
Zadorov – Gudbranson
(Stone)
Markström
Vladar
The Flames cannot accrue any cap savings while Eichel is on hypothetical LTIR – unless they get down below the adjusted cap ceiling of $81.275 million, which would be tough with so few bodies on the roster. And for the Flames to activate Eichel, they’d need to get below the $81.5 million ceiling (including Eichel’s cap hit), which would push them $225,000 below the ceiling with 21 bodies and leave them really vulnerable to short-term injuries. They may, as Vegas and Colorado have, be required to play a player or two short for a game for cap reasons and then (under the CBA’s rules) be allowed to recall a player on an emergency basis to fill out their lineup.
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As you can see: acquiring Eichel would do a number on their centre depth while he’s injured and handcuff them a bit in case of injuries – it would put a few marginal bodies in the NHL as a necessity. Their cap situation would also be a bit dicey going forward – barring jettisoning a key player or two in the off-season – and really put an emphasis on finding impactful NHL players at discount prices (especially entry-level players).  And it would put two of their most potentially impactful prospects in Coronato and Pelletier… in Buffalo, further putting pressure on the organization’s young depth.
It’s worth noting that while Eichel has posted strong numbers and been a very good hockey player in the NHL for a few years, the Sabres have won literally nothing during his tenure due to a lack of organizational depth.
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In short: an Eichel deal is possible. The capology is complex and challenging, and the acquisition cost puts massive pressure on the acquiring team’s depth now and in the future because they wouldn’t be able to have much cap flexibility to tinker around the fringes of the roster.
The cap math doesn’t necessarily say the Flames should attempt the trade or not. Numbers don’t have opinions, they’re just numbers. But they do highlight some of the key risks to making such a big swing in the trade market with a player with a significant injury, a likely surgery, and an unclear recovery trajectory.