For a team that had a hard time winning any games during the last season, the Buffalo Sabres might be on the losing side once again before they hit the ice in October.
Trading Jack Eichel at a time when there are so many questions surrounding the way he will recover from surgery to place an artificial disk in his neck — and at a time when he has publicly acknowledged the disconnect between himself and the team over his preference to go through with the procedure –is not going to go over well for general manager Kevyn Adams.
Still, reports have surfaced that point to the team wanting to move on from their former second overall draft pick — the prize for tanking the 2014-15 season. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman during a recent appearance on WGR 550’s The Instigators with former Sabres Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet, Adams is essentially dealing from the point of weakness.
“That’s the poker game they’re playing right now,” Friedman said. “Other teams are saying you’ve got an unhappy player who doesn’t want to come back. The Sabres, I really think at the end of the day, want to move on. They don’t want him back; they want to move on.”
Blood in the Water
Other teams are smelling blood and circling the sinking Sabres ship to pick off the biggest prize: the team’s captain. General managers around the league are attempting to get Adams to make the trade sooner rather than later, maybe assuming that they can goad him into making a mistake.
“People are saying you’ve got to trade him, you’ve got to trade him,” Friedman said. “Adams has got to convince them and say not so fast. Adams has to create the marketplace.”
But perhaps that marketplace has already been created by circumstance alone. Let’s revisit:
- The Sabers continue to be bad.
- Eichel has an injury to his neck. After consulting with medical experts, he decides to have surgery to replace a disk in his neck with an artificial one.
- This surgery has never been done on an NHL player.
- The Sabres and Eichel agreed on a one-month pause to finish the normal rehab schedule for the injury.
- That pause was set to end late May or early June (now) and the last anyone heard, Eichel hadn’t changed his mind.
The Sabres have been stretching out for success for a long time and pulling out a lot of stops (like blowing away an entire season, famously), but the fans who believe trading Eichel and sparking a retool that brings quick success is really reaching.
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The surgery Eichel wants has never been performed on any active professional hockey player, but some UFC fighters have had it and returned to the octagon. For another team looking to bring Eichel — and his $10 million average annual value — in on a trade, that certainly is a large mitigating factor in what they are willing to give up to get him. Maybe we won’t see a trade at all next season as his stock collapses. Maybe Adams tries to involve Eichel in hiring the team’s new coach to reinvigorate things at KeyBank Center?
Unfortunately, the divorce still appears final.
As fans and reporters, we can talk about this stuff as if it is just straight business. But there’s a human side. Amongst all the trade noise and the presumed irreparable damage between the Sabres and Eichel, there’s a young man who is simply looking out for himself. He’s consulted medical experts and believes this surgery is his best option. Maybe Adams personally agrees? Maybe he doesn’t. But somewhere along the chain of command, the Sabres as an entity aren’t thrilled. I’m not sure a situation like this has ever happened in hockey — but I could be wrong. Please let me know in the comments.
No matter how you look at it personally, a little part of everyone will say that this is a poor situation for Eichel to be in with the team holding most of the cards on what you can and can not do. This isn’t like the Montreal Canadiens telling Carey Price not to do rodeo events anymore on his family’s ranch in British Columbia, where they raise cattle specifically for these events. This is about a phenomenal young player trying to get back on the ice and be better each day than he was the day before. Fast forward a few years, and this guy could be dominating the league.
Sabres Want to Move On
Now, one has to think that Adams and the team want to put it all behind them — as Friedman believes — with a big trade that brings in many assets and perhaps more. However, I don’t see any scenarios where they receive anything close in return for what they will be giving away.
In response to the circling sharks, Adams seems to be trying to play GMs against each other to drive the price up, but it’s not working.
“What the Sabres are trying to do is say, ‘We’ve got teams interested in Eichel, and we’re going to play you all against each other to try and drive up the value,'” Friedman said. “What teams are saying is, ‘Yes, you’ve got other teams, but he’s got an injury… They also say, ‘You guys aren’t dealing from a position of strength’ in negotiations.”
The offseason hasn’t even truly begun, so it’s remarkable how much attention the Eichel speculation is getting across the league. It’s one of the biggest stories in the NHL right now. The opposing dramas of Eichel’s disgruntlement with the team and the steely will of Adams to hold on until he finds a deal that will work for the Sabres’ long-term benefit are two forces seemingly on a collision course this summer.