The Wild has needed a No. 1 center throughout the history of its 20-year franchise, so it only makes sense that there is speculation they could be a perfect fit as a trade partner with Buffalo for Jack Eichel.
Eichel, 24, is a former No. 2 overall pick who scored 36 goals in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season. But he's been out since March 7 due to a neck injury, which followed numerous other issues during an injury-plagued season with the Sabres. And on Tuesday he made it about as clear as possible that he's not very interested in staying in Buffalo.
“I’ve been a bit upset about the way that things have been handled since I’ve been hurt,” Eichel said during the team's media day. “I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. So, yeah, there’s been a bit of a disconnect, I think, from the organization and myself. It’s been tough at times.
“Right now, for me, I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year wherever that might be.”
It's unclear if the Sabres plan to trade Eichel since he still has five years and $50 million remaining on his contract, but considering he has a full no-move clause in his contract beginning July 2022, the pressure is on Buffalo to move sooner than later so Eichel doesn't control his own market.
The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun writes: "I think the Wild make a ton of sense and they have the pieces to do it."
The Wild have the pieces, but as The Athletic's Michael Russo points out, taking on Eichel's $10 million annual average salary would require GM Bill Guerin trading "lucrative salaries in other moves or get Buffalo to acquire some of Minnesota's big-money players in a blockbuster package."
Russo, by the way, started his column by saying it's likely that Guerin "began investigating" trade possibilities for Eichel "weeks ago."
LeBrun spoke with seven members of NHL front offices and the majority of them believe it's going to take a lot to get Eichel, and there is potential for a bidding war.
One front office executive speculated to LeBrun that it could cost a team a first-round pick, a young NHL player and a top center prospect. The Wild have two first-round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft – their own and Pittsburgh's from the Jason Zucker trade – in addition to center prospects Marco Rossi (2020 first-round pick) and Marat Khusnutdinov (2020 second-round pick).
Minnesota clearly has young talent on the roster, so as LeBrun says, Guerin should have the ammo to put together a decent offer for Eichel. But it would likely require Guerin parting with extremely valuable picks and prospects.
So which way will Guerin go: Trust his scouting and keep the roster intact? Or get aggressive and trade for Eichel to see what he could do alongside Kirill Kaprizov on the top line?
Time will tell.