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NHL Winners and Losers: Eichel, Sabres, Leafs, Jersey Fouls

Mike Stephens looks at the ups and down from around the NHL over the past week, including how Vegas hit gold with its newest knight and the team that traded him away.
Jack Eichel

Each week, the NHL brings us its winners and its losers.

It's my job to parse through the action and determine who is who.

So, without further adieu, let's dive into week 19's NHL winners and losers, recounting the best and worst of the most recent week in the NHL:

Loser: The Buffalo Sabres 

It always ends up here, doesn't it? 

Fortune has not really fallen into the Buffalo Sabres' lap over the past few years, has it? It's been something of a rough go. But on the rare occasion that it does, that deeply incompetent organization somehow finds a way to fashion that fortune into a gun and shoot itself in the foot. 

Jack Eichel fell into the Sabres' lap seven years ago, as if God smiled down on the good people of Buffalo for the first time since the Jim Kelly years. And it was glorious. Truly, it was. 

Eichel's arrival should've changed the Sabres' narrative entirely. 

After constructing one of the most blatant active tank jobs in NHL history only to lose the draft lottery months later, Buffalo was still handed the consolation prize of a franchise center with superstar potential who would soon evolve into one of the league's best players, despite the dysfunction surrounding him, and eventually re-sign for the longest-allowable term with the team that routinely fails to retain its stars. 

That's what I would call good fortune. The kind that doesn't typically befall teams that get in their own way as much as the Sabres do. It's a shame things didn't work, really. Buffalo fans are a proud bunch and deserve better.

Winner: Jack Eichel 

Eichel's gains are the Sabres' losses from now on. We're getting petty here, folks.  

Eichel scored his first goal as a Vegas Golden Knight on Sunday, with the tally coming a little over four months after finally undergoing the neck fusion surgery that was only available to him after the Sabres shipped him out of town.

This will likely come as a surprise to most of you, but Eichel seems to be having more fun in Vegas than in Buffalo. 

Shocking, I know. 

It's also worth noting that Eichel is a point-per-game player this season, with three points in three games since returning to the Golden Knights' lineup, and has still not approached his peak yet as he continues to ramp himself back into game shape. The best is yet to come, friends. And that is terrifying. 

He's getting closer by the game, however, as the 25-year-old looked more like his former, dominant self versus the Sharks on Sunday night, once again demonstrating the fruits of his miraculous recovery and seeming poised to help lead the Golden Knights to the top of their division and beyond. 

Loser: This Guy 

Farewell, sweet prince. 

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While making my way to the Scotiabank Arena press box on Saturday night to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the St. Louis Blues, poutine in hand, I spotted what could only be the lone Nick Ritchie Leafs jersey not owned by a direct relative. 

The experience dropped me to my knees, if we're being honest. It was a lot like watching a friend you once respected start posting about getting into NFTs: confusion, pity, and an ultimate resignation to the fact that they are an adult and you must let them live with the consequences of their decisions. 

Well, four hours later, consequences came a-knocking. 

Ritchie would find himself on a plane out of town before the night was even through, with the Maple Leafs flipping him to Arizona following their game, turning this poor fella's purchase from exciting team merch to a collector's item right before his eyes. 

It was an unceremonious end to a ballyhooed era. But we'll always have the memories. 

And this guy, for better or worse, will always have that sweater. 

Winner: Kyle Dubas 

I wonder how much better my life would be if I was as good as Kyle Dubas at solving the problems I created myself. 

Well, in the words of Pete Davidson's girlfriend's husband: I guess we'll never know. 

Dubas took a Nick Ritchie situation that had quickly morphed into a debacle -- with Ritchie being paid $2.5 million per year to score twice in 33 games despite being hand-fed every possible opportunity to succeed by the coaching staff and proceeding to sulk in the AHL -- and turned it into an advantageous endeavor.

For weeks, everyone (myself included) had been wondering what kind of sweetener the Leafs would have to add to Ritchie's bloated cap hit for someone to take him off their hands. And they did need to include one, in the end, offering the Coyotes a choice between their 2023 third-rounder and their 2025 second -- who, by the way, is currently in ninth grade. 

But that's a small price to pay compared to what some expected. Especially when what they got back ended up not only being cap space for both this year and next, but a useful depth forward on an expiring deal, and a right-shot defenseman to address the roster's most glaring weakness. 

The Leafs may have lost their game on Saturday night. But they undoubtedly won the trade, ridding themselves of an asset that appeared to be upset at them for his own failure to look somewhat decent alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, while, in the process, improving their team on and off the ice.

You can't ask for much more than that. 

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