An old Looney Tunes bit has been bouncing around my head as I read, watch and listen to the constant stream of content from various NHL insiders as they parse through the drama between Jack Eichel and Sabres management. On one side, Eichel (Bugs Bunny) is holding up a “duck season” sign and on the other side there’s Kevyn Adams (Daffy Duck) holding up a “rabbit season” sign as they both try to avoid getting hunted by pretending that they’re not fair game. In the middle of it you have the media (Elmer Fudd) trying to parse out who exactly is being unreasonable here. Bugs of course gets the best of Daffy throughout the course of the cartoon.
Eichel stirred the pot when he said that the way the Sabres handled Eichel’s injury created a “disconnect” between himself and the team.
“That, sir, is an unmitigated fabrication!” says Daffy to Bugs in the cartoon.
Kevyn Adams said in his year-end press conference that both the team doctors and Eichel’s second opinion doctors agreed that a 12-week rehab stint was the best course of action at the time. That time has now past and there is very much a disconnect between the two parties as there is still no resolution on which course of medical action to take. Eichel was right: there is and was a disconnect.
Bugs 1, Daffy 0
The two sides also got into a battle over whether they want any part of being with each other anymore. They both seemed to take shots at each other with Eichel saying he has “a lot to consider” with regard to his desire to be a Sabre in the future while Kevin Adams repeatedly said he wants players who want to be here.
The problem for Adams is that Eichel’s course of action increases the likelihood that Eichel will get traded, and what Adams said about wanting players who want to be here also increases the likelihood that Eichel gets traded. Adams’s comments also undermine his bargaining position among other teams as he sets about trading the best player to don the blue and gold in 20 years. When Adams says that he is going to move forward “with the people who want to be here,” the subtext of that comment is that Eichel is not part of the future if he’s ambivalent-at-best about whether he wants to be here. That lowers Adams’s bargaining power considerably with other teams.
There is also the fact that it is quite literally Kevyn Adams’s job to make good players want to play in Buffalo. Acquire good players, keep good players. That’s the job.
Bugs 2, Daffy 0
And then there’s the no-movement clause. Kevyn Adams can play hardball all he wants for the next 13 months, but once Eichel’s no-movement clause kicks in next July, Eichel holds all of the cards regarding where he gets dealt. Further, if Adams is set on not allowing Eichel to get the surgery that Eichel’s personal doctors think is best, then there’s the possibility that Eichel just sits out this coming season if he doesn’t feel that he’s healthy enough or if he’s simply miserable. Granted, there are collective bargaining agreement ramifications to that plan, but from Eichel’s perspective, killing time until next July is probably fine with him if he truly does want to leave.
Bugs 3, Daffy 0
Kevyn Adams seems like a bright guy and I’m going to assume he understands that his own actions will push Eichel out of town if this continues. What all of this posturing amounts to, in my opinion, is Adams attempting to use the media to influence the opinion of the fan base at large to accept a return on an Eichel trade that could underwhelm. Adams is looking to sell the fan base on “Eichel didn’t want to be here, and we want people who want to be here.” Again, it’s not a terrific selling point as it’s the general manager’s job to make Buffalo a place where talent doesn’t consistently run out of the door at the earliest opportunity.
When Ryan O’Reilly gave his famous “lost his love for the game” speech and was subsequently traded for – shall we say – an underwhelming return, a large contingency of the fan base accepted it because O’Reilly didn’t want to be here. To some degree that is understandable because a team cannot have malcontents and moody players souring the mood for the rest of the players who may not be miserable (yet).
On the other hand, it does not address the real problem going on here which is that the Sabres have been so chronically mismanaged over the past decade that seemingly everything good they touch turns bad. It’s not Eichel’s fault he’s fed up. It’s the organization’s fault. This keeps happening repeatedly to the Sabres so it’s impossible for me to buy the line that this is an Eichel problem. And don’t try to feed me a line about the City of Buffalo being a poor draw to attract and retain top-flight talent. The folks at One Bills Drive have no problem retaining quality players below market value and signing free agents due their status as a legitimate Superbowl contender. It’s a “losing” problem, not a “Buffalo” problem.
Bugs 4, Daffy 0
Kevyn Adams in an unenviable position as the one who has to navigate this mess, and certainly Adams is not responsible for the vast majority of the poor decisions that led the Sabres to this point, but now it’s his job to somehow escape the fallout and save as much face as possible in the process.
And hey, maybe Adams somehow placates Eichel and turns the relationship around. Maybe Adams somehow gets a stellar trade return even with all the chips stacked against him with the Eichel injury. What this approach seems to amount to though, is pre-emptive posturing with the knowledge that he – Kevyn Adams – is going to trade the best Sabres player in a generation and he is going to lose that trade. He might lose the trade badly. It seems like Adams knows this and he’s attempting to use his media availability to further this narrative to lessen the blow.
There’s a part near the end of the Loony Tunes cartoon when Daffy looks at Bugs and acknowledges his fate.
“Well,” Daffy says, “I guess I’m the goat.”
It certainly looks that way at the moment.