It’s not a new storyline. Jack Eichel has made it clear that he and the Sabres organization do not see eye-to-eye. Unfortunately for him, the Buffalo front office is extremely reluctant to give him anything he wants that differs from what they want. Here’s a quick dive into the standoff that is currently taking place in Buffalo.
Jack Eichel Discontent in Upstate NY
Last year, Jack made it clear to us that he was frustrated with the lack of success Buffalo was having. Rumors that he wanted a trade were quickly squashed by his agent, but that was then. His agents came out last month stating that they were fully expecting a trade offer before the start of free agency. GM Kevyn Adams, on the other hand, says he’s in no rush to trade Eichel; read: he’s happy to keep Jack in limbo until it suits Adams’ needs.
It’s been over a year since the Sabres fired 22 members of staff in one swoop in the hopes it would spark even the tiniest bit of life into the team. It didn’t; they finished dead last, worse than they did in 2019-20.
Perhaps part of the reason for their lack of success this year was that Eichel himself only played 21 games thanks to injury. But, as I’ve said a thousand times, one player cannot make up a team. If I were Eichel, I’d be beyond just frustrated.
Pain in the Neck
Another source of frustration comes with the recurring injury that kept him out of the game for the majority of the season. He has been dealing with a herniated disk for quite a while now. Eichel sought second opinions outside the team’s doctors, as anyone would when looking at surgery. He wants to have a disk replacement surgery, a procedure the Sabres had backed until a few weeks ago. Buffalo now opposes the replacement in favor of fusion surgery, per the team doctors. Here’s an overview of both procedures. Eichel’s camp insists that recovery time for the replacement surgery is only 8 weeks while the fusion surgery recovery period is about 12 weeks. The team claims their reluctance to allow the replacement procedure is because no NHL player has had it done before.
As someone who has had surgery on their head and neck in the past, I would be absolutely furious to have someone tell me I was not allowed to choose the procedure myself. The neck is a very sensitive part of the body, especially when it comes to sports. This decision also goes further than just his career; it will have an effect throughout the rest of his life.
Okay, I understand wanting to protect an asset. This, however, is not protecting an asset. It’s pride, pure and simple.
Yup, I said it. I believe the Buffalo Sabres’ front office’s incompetence is 100% due to pride.
Adams is a green GM. He’s been ridiculed for the [disastrous] Taylor Hall trade. He’s embarrassed. My guess is that he doesn’t want to seem any weaker after that, so he’s going to stick to his guns.
In addition to Adams, I’m sure the owners are feeling it as well. The thing about team doctors is that they are just that, team employees. They’re paid to be doctors just as much as they are paid to say things that ownership wants to hear (assuming they want to get paid). This week, Robin Lehner spoke out against the doctors he dealt with in Buffalo when [mis]treating his high ankle sprain. (It’s no wonder Eichel sought out second opinions outside the team. If these doctors can’t handle an ankle sprain, they certainly can’t handle a neck injury.) It seems that they have more of an interest in getting players back on the ice as fast as possible rather than fully treating and healing those players.
Buffalo claims they oppose the replacement procedure because it’s never been done in the NHL before, but I don’t think that’s really why. By letting Eichel get surgery by doctors outside the Sabres’ payroll, it would be like admitting their team knows nothing. It would be another embarrassment. Optics matter more to them than the fact that a disk fusion would mean more surgeries in the future for Jack.
So why not trade? I point you back to the Taylor Hall trade where the Bruins fleeced Buffalo. Adams does not want a repeat of that any more than he wants to let Jack have autonomy over his body.
What Next for Jack Eichel?
God, I have no idea. I really don’t see any solutions on the horizon. The fact that they were supposed to have a resolution a month ago and the Sabres changed their minds last second doesn’t give me hope that they actually want a resolution in the near future. Eichel wants to play, he’s made that abundantly clear. If the team won’t trade him somewhere that will allow him the replacement, I don’t see him suiting up for them at all next year, no matter how much his contract is for.
The one thing I am sure of is that they will look like the biggest fools in the fall when they come back without Jack Eichel as their captain. It’s the one outcome that’s almost completely surefire. They won’t want their leader actively butting heads with the front office if he stays. And if he leaves, he may make someone else a fine leader.
Man, I’m glad I’m not a Sabres fan. Stay strong, guys.
-Heidi Thomas (@DamselOnDrums)
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