- The Vegas Golden Knights have acquired elite center Jack Eichel in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.
- Buffalo receives forward Alex Tuch, forward Peyton Krebs and draft picks in 2022 and 2023.
- Eichel is sidelined with a herniated disk in his neck and disagreement over how best to treat it precipitated his departure from Buffalo.
The Vegas Golden Knights have been trying to land a top line center for the past couple of seasons. That search appears to be over as the team has acquired Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo sent Eichel and a third round pick in 2023 to Vegas in exchange for forward Alex Tuch, forward Peyton Crebs and draft picks in 2022 and 2023.
Eichel is an elite center but the move comes with a fair degree of risk. It also comes with a big hit to the Vegas salary cap of $10 million USD per year through 2025-2026. The risk is Eichel’s health–he’s been sidelined with a herniated disk in his neck since March 2021. The injury–or more specifically, the treatment of the injury–is why a player of Eichel’s status was on the market in the first place. Eichel had been the Sabres captain but his relationship with the team deteriorated quickly following a dispute in how best to treat the injury. The team wanted to take a more conservative approach to treatment while Eichel wanted to undergo an artificial disk replacement surgery. The artificial disk replacement is considered a more ‘cutting edge’ surgery than the Sabres’ preferred method of treatment, disk fusion surgery. Compounding the risk–it has never been performed on a NHL player.
That said, there’s a consensus of support for this course of treatment from the VGK medical staff as well as other orthopedic surgeons. Of course, signing off on Eichel’s choice of treatment was necessary to bring him in. As Vegas head coach Pete DeBoer summarized the situation:
“I think the way you have to look at it is if he’s not in the situation he’s in, is he even available?. The answer is probably not.”
Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon says that the team is aware of the downside risk but optimistic:
“No one in hockey has had this surger. Does that put some uncertainty to it? I guess it does. Do we have a comfort level that he’s going to return to full health? We do.”
McCrimmon elaborated, saying that Eichel’s team has done their due diligence:
“We have a lot of respect for the work that’s gone into this from his agent, from his second-opinion doctors, the specialists and experts that he’s seen in this field. We’ll defer to their wishes and respect the choices that they’re making based on knowing how much work they’ve done to prepare themselves for surgery. We do believe he will make a full recovery. We do believe if he makes a full recovery that he’ll return to form.”
This procedure, which is newer and originated in the early 2000s, involves putting an artificial disk into the part of the neck where the damaged disk was. That way, the pressure is still taken off the nerve, but the motion of the neck and spine can return to normal. The lack of additional stress put on different levels of the neck and spine also offers hope the surgery will have better long-term outcomes than ACDF, though that continues to be studied.
In addition, the disk replacement surgery has a faster recovery time. GM McCrimmon has estimated that Eichel could be back in action three to five months after getting the surgery. Eichel says that he’s confident in his medical team:
“I’m very comfortable with it. I have extreme confidence in my surgeon and the people I plan to do my recovery with.”
“I made the decision that this would be the best course of action for me. I think that’s kind of where it brings us to now and just finding a partner that would allow me to do this. Buffalo wasn’t comfortable with the surgery, and Vegas obviously is, so that’s where we are.”
Dr. Neel Anand, a professor of orthopedic surgery and the Director of Spine Trauma at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, thinks that concern about the procedure in the sports media is overdone:
“There’s nothing experimental about it. And just because it hasn’t been done in a professional athlete doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
Eichel is as good as they come. He’s a North Chelmsford, Massachusetts and was the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft. In any normal year, he would have been the first overall pick but in 2015 that distinction went to Connor McDavid. Eichel is a five time 20 goal scorer and played in three straight All Star Games from 2018 through 2020. VGK defenseman Alex Pietrangelo gave this perspective on Eichel:
“He’s dynamic. It changes our matchups from the other team looking at us. Jack can change the game in the blink of an eye. That’s an element that you want on your team.”
Head coach DeBoer summed up the acquisition of Eichel:
“The opportunity to get a guy like this is very rare. There’s been no bones made about the fact that this organization wants to win, and they want to win now, and they’re willing to provide whatever resources to the players, the coaches, to the fans in order to chase a Stanley Cup.”
Eichel will wear #9 in Vegas. He’ll have his disk replacement procedure on November 12 at the Rocky Mountain Spine Clinic in Denver. Dr. Chad Prusmack will perform the operation.