Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres and captain Jack Eichel are on a collision course, which sounds like it’s going to end in divorce.
Eichel hadn’t spoken to the media since before the injury happened back on March 7.
The issue at hand is the herniated disk in Eichel’s neck, and he was completely up front how he feels about the Sabres when it comes to this matter.
“For sure I’ve been a bit upset with the way that things have been handled since I’ve been hurt," Eichel said during his end-of-season Zoom conference call on Monday. "I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury, so yes, there’s been a bit of a disconnect from the organization and myself. Right now, for me, I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy, and to figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.
“The losing takes a toll and it's all perspective, and I guess we’ll see what happens. I think in the situation I’m in right now, my No. 1 focus is to figure out a way to be cleared to play and to get myself in as good condition to be ready to have a good year next year.
“There’s definitely an opportunity where it could still require surgery, so I’m trying to keep an open mind. But more than anything, I just want to fix the situation and get healthy and prepare for next season.”
The herniated disk isn’t the only thing that has plagued Eichel. Despite former head coach Ralph Krueger saying that Eichel wasn’t playing hurt, we’ve known all along that was a lie.
“I had the ankle sprain in New Jersey, missed a few game for that. I broke a rib on the ice before the season, probably a few weeks before training camp," Eichel said. "I fractured the tip of my rib shooting... and then I had an abdominal injury that I hurt last year, and to be honest with you, it’s just lingered for awhile.”
Eichel knows he didn’t play his best this season. In 21 games, he had two goals and 16 assists for 18 points.
“I don’t want to make that an excuse for the two goals that I had," Eichel said. "When I was in the lineup, I definitely didn’t contribute and play as well as I needed to play, and that’s just a hard truth. I was not good enough, and I can look at myself in the mirror and say that. So I’ve just got to be better. I’ve got to be a better hockey player.”
Eichel was asked numerous times and never would answer straight up if he wants to be traded.
“I have a lot of thinking to do. I have a lot that I have to consider, but for now I’m here," Eichel said. "I’m the captain of this hockey team, and my goal is to be available and to try to help the guys in the room and to help this organization win hockey games. I’ll continue to do that as long as I’m here.
“I’m sure that the team’s exploring every possible option, and what they think they’re going to do and where this organization is going to continue to move forward. One side, my own camp is on one page and the team is on another. We’re going back-and-forth about the best way to go about it, so there’s been a few conversations.”
Eichel probably has 10 more years or more in the National Hockey League, and right now he’s worried about that.
“You’ve got to worry about yourself. You’ve got to do what’s best for yourself, and the organization has to do what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres," Eichel said. "Things haven’t been very black and white. We’re all trying to educate ourselves, so there’s been some tough conversations. But I’ve got to do what’s best for me. I’m only going to play hockey for so long, but I’ll come out on the other end of it and before I know it, I’ll be back on the ice and I’ll look forward to that.”
I asked Eichel if he wants surgery to repair his herniated disk. It’s his body, so why doesn’t he just do it? Eichel said it’s in his contract.
“It doesn’t work like that, Paul. I wish," Eichel responded. "I mean, you hit the nail right on the head. I’m under contract with this team, and they definitely hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do.”
The new collective bargaining agreement does address this. It says:
“The player shall provide all relevant records to the player’s physician. The club physician shall determine the diagnosis or course of treatment after considering any report or other records received from the player’s physician and after giving due consideration to their recommendations."
The Sabres are well within their rights on this.
Eichel played for Don Granato in the U.S. National Team Development Program, and has heard from his teammates of how well they are responding to his leadership.
“Being able to talk to the guys and get their perspective on how things were different and guys are really positive about it. It seems like the mood’s good. It seems like guys are excelling,” Eichel said of the Sabres interim head coach.
As far as Krueger getting fired, Eichel said it was a hard decision for everyone involved.
"Ralph was a phenomenal human being, and somebody I hope to continue to have a relationship with for the rest of my life. I think the world of Ralph," Eichel said.
So this obviously is not a good situation if you want Eichel to remain with the Sabres. Everything is pointing to this being a situation that can’t be worked out with anything other than the main player that they tanked for being traded.
In case you missed Eichel's end-of-season conference call, you can listen to to it in its entirety below: