At this point, it’s hard to say which is more disappointing – the snoozefest that was trade deadline day or battle for the basement that is McEichel day; though, at least deadline day got some media coverage. NBCSports dropped McEichel day from their programming because even Pierre McGuire realized he didn’t have anything to drone on endlessly about.
Don’t get me wrong; deadline day was a dud for most of the league as much as it was for the Sabres. I’m sure Murray did the best he could to find a home for his other UFAs, but for some reason, the market stayed quiet for goaltenders and Legwand has likely aged out of a role as trade bait. Murray did find one team willing to deal a pick, and so Jamie McGinn will finish the season in Anaheim, and the Sabres will head into this year’s draft with a possible 12 picks.
As the sun rises on McEichel day, it is likely that most fans are a lot less excited than they were when this matchup was announced. Edmonton has been busy Edmontining all over the place; they’ve proven unable to bolster their defense, and have thrown several decent goaltenders to the wolves. Unfortunately for the Oilers, McDavid missed nearly half of the season with a shoulder injury, and unfortunately for McDavid, his presence on the ice is indeed awe-inspiring, but has not translated into wins for the team.
Eichel has had a great season in his own right. His possession statistics are far-and-away the best of his rookie class, and he still manages to stay at the top of the scoring charts. His unique and powerful play has resulted in just as many highlight-reel goals as his counterpart McDavid, but he is a far more responsible player, and therefore, more important to his team – especially now.
With McGinn gone and O’Reilly out for at least two, probably three more weeks, Eichel will have to step up as a leader on the team. It’s not that Eichel can’t lead, or that he shouldn’t lead, but it’s a lot to expect of the 19 year old rookie. At a time when he should be focusing on his individual play and finishing his first season strongly, he’s going to have to put this young team on his shoulders and charge up the steepest of hills that is the home stretch of the NHL season. This extra weight is definitely not something that McDavid has to contend with.
With so many forwards injured, Buffalo’s strength lies in their defense. It will be interesting to see if they can hang with McDavid and shut down the talented skater, minimizing his breakaway abilities, tying him up, and keeping him to the outside. The same can definitely not be said about Edmonton – their defense is a loosely laid pile of swiss cheese. It’s going to fall on Edmonton’s offense-first forwards to shut down Eichel, and I think they’re going to struggle with that; Eichel has brushed off players that are far more experienced, far stronger, and…well…better.
The game would have a completely different tone if it were played a month ago, but tonight’s showdown is lackluster at best. We’ll get to see McDavid try to go coast to coast. We’ll get to see Eichel break through the zone, fighting off weak attempts to stop him. What we probably won’t see is anything resembling good, systematic hockey played by two teams who, by all rights, should be contenders in a few years. Buffalo is a few years short of the necessary experience and Edmonton is…they’re just Edmonton. They’re half a dozen good decisions away from being a quality hockey team. I think Buffalo wins, simply because I think Buffalo’s defense will be able to handle the Oilers, but I don’t think Edmonton’s D can hang with Eichel, Kane, and Reinhart. 5-3 Sabres. When I’m wrong, you know where to find me.