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Zulgad’s Roundup: Wild aren’t one of five teams involved in Jack Eichel sweepstakes

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Islanders
Mar 6, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) reacts during the third period against the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Jack Eichel sweepstakes is at five teams, according to Emily Kaplan of ESPN, and the injured center was nearly dealt to one of them last Thursday. The Wild, however, is not on that list.

Minnesota was one of the teams reported to be in talks with Buffalo earlier this offseason regarding the Sabres star, but that is no longer the case, according to SKOR North spies. Eichel, who needs to undergo surgery because of a herniated disk in his neck, has been stripped of the captaincy by the Sabres and likely will never play another game with the team.

The issue during the offseason was whether Eichel would have the procedure. The Sabres didn’t want him to have it done, but the player felt it was necessary. Now, it’s almost certain he will have it before he ever plays a game for his new team, when he gets to a new team, and will miss substantial time.

Eichel, the second pick overall in the 2015 draft, has 139 goals and 355 points in 375 games over six seasons with the Sabres. The 24-year-old is considered one of the top talents in the NHL, and that’s why the Sabres are demanding such a high return.

The Wild almost certainly would have to give up a package that includes either center Marco Rossi and winger Matthew Boldy, if not both players, and high draft picks. Eichel also carries a $10 million cap hit through the 2025-26 season, and that means the Wild would have to part with some valuable veterans before next season, if they were to add him.

This isn’t to say Eichel wouldn’t have a positive impact in Minnesota. Centers with his talent — assuming his surgery goes fine — are hard to find. But the Wild, who open the regular season on Friday night in Anaheim, are hoping Rossi will develop into a top six center. He will begin the season with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League.

  • The Wild rank 19th among the 32 NHL teams in valuations recently published by Sportico. The Toronto Maple Leafs lead the list with a value of $2 billion, followed by the New York Rangers at $187 million. The Arizona Coyotes are last at $41 million. The Wild ($79 million) are sandwiched in between two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay ($81 million) and the Colorado Avalanche ($78 million). The NFL has the highest average value for teams at $3.5 billion, the NBA is second at $2.3 billion, followed by MLB ($2.2 billion), the NHL ($930 million) and the MLS ($550 million).
  • Leah Hextall will have the call and Brian Boucher will be the analyst for the Wild’s opener against the Ducks at 9 p.m. Friday on ESPN+ and Hulu. Linda Cohn will handle reporting duties from Anaheim, and Arda Öcal, Ryan Callahan and John Tortorella will be in studio. Hextall, who called the 2019 NCAA men’s hockey championship for ESPN, is the cousin of longtime NHL goalie and Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ron Hextall. She has been broadcasting hockey for 17 years.
  • After watching ESPN’s return to NHL coverage on Tuesday and TNT’s first-ever night of showing the league on Wednesday, here are a few thoughts: 1) The TNT studio team had immediate chemistry with host Liam McHugh and analyst Anson Carter far more loose than they were while working the desk for NBC Sports Network. I didn’t expect much from Wayne Gretzky but was pleasantly surprised. The potential breakout star is Paul Bissonnette, who fits perfectly into what TNT is all about. Think “Inside the NBA,” and how much fun that crew has on set. 2) TNT’s graphic showing the remaining penalty time on the ice might become the norm in hockey telecasts. 3) If Sean McDonough is going to be ESPN’s lead NHL play-by-play voice, he needs to find chemistry quick with analyst Ray Ferraro. Ferraro is one of the best in the business — he has long worked for TSN in Canada — and McDonough sounded like a guy who hadn’t seen a hockey game in a long time when he called the Bolts and Penguins on Tuesday. 4) If Kaplan is going to be used between the benches, then go to her more often. Either that or give her a place on the studio show as the hockey insider. She’s a rising star and deserves more air time than she got Tuesday.
  • Every time I hear about Oli Udoh struggling with the fundamentals of playing right guard for the Vikings, I’m reminded that Udoh was moved from tackle to guard just before training camp and many assumed that would be fine. That was a huge assumption to make. Meanwhile, third-round guard Wyatt Davis can’t even get on the active roster to play on special teams, and Dakota Dozier has been promoted from the practice squad to be a backup guard. None of this has received much attention but it’s concerning.
  • Running back Dalvin Cook (ankle) took part in all of Thursday’s practice and is likely to return Sunday at Carolina, but it’s interesting that wide receivers Justin Jefferson (ankle) and Adam Thielen (foot) haven’t practiced this week. Jefferson said he will be good to go Sunday.
  • Nose tackle Michael Pierce (elbow) hasn’t practiced this week and figures to miss a second consecutive game on Sunday. Best case is that Pierce returns after the bye week when the Vikings play host to the Cowboys.
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had his offensive staff do a self-scout this week after a fourth consecutive game in which his team didn’t score a touchdown in the second half. So will the Vikings be willing to get more creative in Carolina? The issue is the Panthers have one of the NFL’s best defenses, Carolina ranks No. 1 against the pass, and while Zimmer might want to see the passing game used more, will he be OK if Kirk Cousins throws an interception early? Jefferson and Thielen’s health also could play a factor in what might just turn into a “give the ball to Dalvin” and hope game.