Eichel On His Way Out? By Hank.
Eichel On His Way Out?
“I have to get ready to play hockey next year, wherever that may be.” – Jack Eichel
Let the speculation begin.
Buffalo Sabres veterans spoke with the media today following the season and the leading indications are that some long-time Sabres have at least one foot out the door. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was clear in his remarks, saying that he is open to a trade. Center Sam Reinhart had a very somber tone in his voice and did not comment on his future other than to express disappointment. Without a doubt, the headline of the day is that Jack Eichel would not commit to his future in Buffalo.
Sabres captain Jack Eichel was scheduled to speak with the media at 11:10 but the start time was pushed back to noon which only furthered the suspense of what the center would say when he finally spoke with the media. Mike Harrington from the Buffalo News reported that the reason for the delay was that Eichel’s exit interview with Kevyn Adams ran long. Hoo boy. That should be good fodder for the rumor mill. It’s certainly a bad look for both the organization and for Eichel to be almost an hour late for a press conference, especially when speculation is running rampant about the long-term vision of the franchise. The narrative around the team in recent years has been that they operate in a constant state of disorganization and even chaos. Today certainly does not dispel that notion. Here’s some of what the captain had to say when he finally did speak:
Initially, Eichel seemed positive and he had a very upbeat attitude. On Granato: “Guys are really positive about it… guys are excelling. There’s definitely a positive in that.” Likewise, Eichel had glowing things to say about former coach Ralph Krueger, adding that he plans to remain in touch with Krueger going forward.
And then the tone changed.
Eichel said the organization did not handle his injury well: “For sure I’d say I’ve been a little bit upset about the way things have went since the injury. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between the organization and me.” From there, Eichel mentioned that he doesn’t know where he will be playing next year and would not commit to stay with the organization. Eichel said throughout the season, he had a sprained ankle, a broken hit and a broken rib in addition to the neck issue. It appears based on his comments that Eichel wants to have neck surgery but the Sabres do not want him to go under the knife.
Other assorted comments from #9:
Eichel on his frustration level: “I’m frustrated. You can’t sit here on media day and be happy about the situation,” Eichel said. “It forces everyone to consider what you could do better. I have a lot of thinking to do this season. I have a lot to consider. But for now, you know I’m here. I am the captain of this hockey team.”
Eichel on trade rumors: “Like I said, we haven’t had enough success. I’m not obtaining the goals that I’ve set as a professional hockey player. Whenever that happens, you’re always vulnerable for the rumor mill and potential trades, and as an organization I’m sure they’re evaluating their options.”
Eichel on his future: “As long as I’m here, my duty is to be the leader of the team.”
Eichel on the disconnect between himself and the organization during his injury: “It was my own camp on one page, and the organization on another. My number one interest and number one goal is Jack Eichel… Things maybe haven’t been very black and white. There’s been some tough conversations but I have to do what’s best for me. I have to take care of myself.”
On what he thinks the Sabres will do: “As I just kind of mentioned, I gotta do what’s best for me but they gotta do what’s best for them. It’s a business. As a player you have to protect your own interest and do what’s best for you.”
On why Eichel doesn’t take the course of action he would prefer relating to the neck injury: “Doesn’t work like that. I’m under contract with this team. We’re talking about a herniated disk in your neck. It’s a serious issue.”
It’s hard to fault Eichel, Reinhart or Ristolainen for their discontent as they have been mired in the losing atmosphere of the organization for years. It is rare for players to openly express their discontent so publicly. It appears we have finally reached the breaking point.
Elsewhere on the roster, Goaltender Linus Ullmark expressed that he would open to extending with the Sabres but that he needs time with his family back home in Sweden before making any decisions.
Long-time Sabres winger Kyle Okposo expects to be healthy and with the team next year. Likewise, Skinner said he expects to be a Sabre next year as well. With all due respect to those two players, Sabres fans have lost a considerable amount of faith in their ability to make a meaningful contribution to the organization. The Sabres are once again seemingly on the wrong end of contract status with Skinner and Okposo locked up for $15 million, but without a contract for Sam Reinhart who is in the final year of team control as a restricted free agent. The Sabres squandered the opportunity to give Reinhart a lengthy extension last offseason, instead offering him another short-term deal with the Sabres. To add insult to injury, they finally realized he can play center after years of avoiding that move. Jake McCabe indicated he would be open to returning.
At the risk of being overdramatic it feels as though the Sabres could be headed for a summer of cataclysmic change with several vets heading toward the door either through trade or free agency. If Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams wants to continue with these veterans, he has his work cut out to smooth things over. To that point, will Kevyn Adams want to continue with players who are seemingly ambivalent about remaining in Buffalo? The Sabres badly need players who are willing to buy in.
Further, the incredible volume of information contained in the press conferences today lays perfectly bare how dysfunctional the Buffalo Sabres organization really is. Three veterans in Reinhart, Ristolainen and Eichel look ready to make their departures from the organization this summer which would result in the most high-profile exits since Danny Briere and Chris Drury left on July 1, 2007. All of the losing has finally come to a head and it seems that what is left of the core is about to be blown up and scattered to the wind.
Buckle up folks, we’re in for a wild ride this summer.