The Buffalo Sabres nightmare season somehow managed to get a little worse this afternoon. Captain Jack Eichel will miss the remainder of the season due to a herniated disc in his neck that will require surgery. He hasn’t played since March 7th due to the condition, which he has been dealing with all year. Despite that, there was hope that he would be able to avoid surgery and return to the ice this season. However, that’s obviously not the case anymore. He is expected to have surgery soon so he can get back to training and be fully healthy for the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
What Does This Mean For Buffalo?
While yet another blow in a season full of them, not much is going to change for the Sabres now. They’re mere games away from being the first team eliminated from playoff contention. On top of that, they’re in no danger of ending the season anywhere but last place in the league. So, their fate hasn’t changed despite losing their best player for the rest of the year.
The only thing that may have changed this season is morale. They’ve been playing better (but still not exactly well) since they snapped their losing streak, and were hopeful they’d see their star and captain return before the end of the year. It would’ve given them an extra boost to maybe go play spoiler in the East. But now, that hope has evaporated. Losing your captain and star player hurts on any team, but especially one that has already been playing so poorly. So, while I don’t think we see a huge difference in the on-ice product, I assume the morale in the locker room will drop down another peg with this news.
If anything, this injury might be a good thing for Buffalo (although obviously not for Eichel himself). For starters, it likely buys them another season with him (more on that later). But, on top of that, it allows their younger players to continue having an increased role. This gives the team more time to evaluate them to get a better understanding of what they need to improve moving forward in order to be competitive again (although I can answer that for them: it’s everything). So, while you never want to see a player get injured, and especially one of Eichel’s caliber, both parties can rest a little easier knowing that it’s not hurting the team.
Will Jack Eichel Still Be a Sabre Upon His Return?
Now, to address the elephant in the room. Has Eichel played his last game in a Sabres uniform? There have been rumblings that he’s wanted out for a while now. Those only got louder as this hellish season dragged on. The Sabres were taking calls on him, but nothing got past the preliminary stages. But, according to NHL Rumors Daily, there are two teams that are ready to take a run at him this offseason. I expect that one of those is the New York Rangers, but I’m not entirely sure who the other one would be. Regardless, it certainly sounds like there will be more talks this summer.
At this point, a trade seems inevitable. He’s frustrated, as he should be. Eichel is an elite player, and yet hasn’t even been able to sniff the playoffs in any of his six NHL seasons. The Sabres have completely failed at rebuilding around Eichel, and at this point, there’s little hope they can turn it around. They need to just blow it up and start over. It’s what’s best for everyone involved. Keep Rasmus Dahlin (at least for now), and sell whatever else they can for draft picks and prospects. The sooner they do that, the faster they can (hopefully) finally emerge from the league’s basement.
That Being Said, He’ll Likely Be Back
All of that being said, I don’t think this is the year Eichel moves. This injury will give teams a reason to not offer as much to acquire him, and the Sabres are frankly beyond stupid if they sell low. The smartest thing for them to do is hang on to him until at least the next trade deadline and then trade him. That way, his value will be as high as possible. However, one potential problem with doing this is Eichel has a full no-move clause (NMC) starting next summer. So, if they don’t get rid of him before then, he has all the power when it comes to where he ends up. The Sabres got screwed out of a big return for Taylor Hall at this deadline because he had an NMC, so I think it’s safe to say they want to avoid that if possible.
All in all, this should be very interesting to watch unfold (unless you’re a Sabres fan because in that case, it’s sure to be rather painful). Both the Sabres and Eichel are smart to avoid a trade this offseason. In the Sabres case, it’ll ensure Eichel’s value is as high as possible. As for Eichel, if he makes it to next offseason, he has complete control over where he goes. But, because of that, the Sabres will likely be a little wary and want to ensure it doesn’t get to that point. So, I’m very curious as this all works out because both parties have their reasons to go now as well as to wait. I don’t think Eichel has played his final game as a Sabre. But, the clock is definitely ticking on his time with the team.
All in all, while Jack Eichel’s injury is deeply unfortunate and yet another blow to this poor team, it doesn’t change much for them. They were already about to be eliminated from playoff contention and had no hope of getting out of last place in the league. Therefore, while they’re worse for it, there was nowhere lower to go. So, at least he won’t be worrying about that, and can just focus on his recovery. I think I speak for all hockey fans when I say I wish him all the best and hope he makes a quick, full recovery!
As for whether or not Eichel has played his last game as a Sabre, it’s possible, but given the circumstances, I don’t think so. I think it’s more likely that he gets moved at the deadline or next offseason when his value is higher. If teams don’t try to use this injury against him, then it could be this offseason. But, it is a valid concern, so I can’t imagine they won’t. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Calls will definitely be made, so even if nothing happens it will be interesting to watch unfold (or painful if you’re a Sabres fan).
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of Micheline Veluvolu.
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