The Buffalo Sabres hit the ice for the first day of their 2021 training camp on Thursday, and along with participating in team drills on the ice, Sabres general manager (GM) Kevyn Adams and head coach Don Granato, in addition to some veteran players like Kyle Okposo, answered questions from the media for the first time in several months since the 2020-21 regular season ended in April. The biggest news of the day, though, dominated the NHL news sphere, and it came in the form of an update on the Jack Eichel situation.
Eichel Has Sabres Captaincy Stripped
In a half hour-long presser with the media that the Sabres live streamed on their Twitter account, Adams gave a shocking and sudden update on the Eichel saga. “I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this,” Adams said, “[and] Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres.”
Adams went on to take subtle digs at Eichel, saying that “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.” Adams isn’t wrong about some of what he said – there has been a growing rift between Eichel and the Sabres fanbase for a few years now, and the challenges this offseason have widened that rift to a point of no return for many. And evidently, Adams and Granato obviously felt that the same thing happened in the locker room.
Granato went on to say in his presser that there is no rush to name a new captain during the season, let alone before the season starts, and that fans shouldn’t be surprised to see the captaincy remain vacant for some time.
Aside from having his captaincy stripped, the looming question about Eichel is still his health. He failed his physical and is not being permitted to participate in training camp, and he and the Sabres are still at a disagreement about what surgery option to pursue to begin his recovery. “I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery,” Adams said to the media, “Unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution.”
Eichel’s medical situation remaining unresolved poses an issue when it comes to trading him: teams might not feel comfortable taking on an injured player who needs surgery, and the Sabres likely won’t aim to trade him now until that situation is resolved (read: until Eichel has some kind of surgery). While there are plenty of other team-specific topics to focus on, this one continues to be the elephant in the room.
Granato Juggling Sabres Lines Early
Granato’s first training camp as head coach of the Sabres is a wild one, but he’s determined to find the best combination of lines possible for his young group of players to try and maximize their development this season. In the first of two practice groups Thursday morning, the forward lines were:
Line 1: Bjork – Mittelstadt – Thompson
Line 2: Caggiula – Girgensons – Okposo
Line 3: Peterka – Malone – Hayden
Line 4: Pekar – Scarfo – Franco
Obviously, that is a lot different from what the lineup will like on opening night, but it’s a clear indication that Granato wants to play veterans with prospects and young players to see what this roster is made of. The second group of the day rotated forward lines to try out different combinations, but featured Dylan Cozens centering a line with Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson on his wings, which could be the Sabres top line for the majority of this season.
Granato also announced that Zemgus Girgensons and Arttu Ruotsalainen will open camp playing at the center ice position, with Girgensons hitting the ice for the first time since last offseason, before he suffered the injury that ultimately ended his season. “I enjoy playing center,” Girgensons said in a statement to the media the Sabres shared on their Twitter. “It’s a little more work than playing winger, but I enjoyed it.”
Okposo Has High Praise For Girgensons
Okposo also spoke to the media, and he returns for the last year on his contract as one of the oldest players on the roster. He shared his excitement for the season and the opportunity it holds, as well as his excitement for Girgensons returning to the lineup.
“There’s no analytic for that guy. There’s zero,” Okposo said. “Like, that guy brings so much to our team and so much energy and he does everything the right way. That guy’s one of the best teammates I’ve every played with.” That’s high praise coming from Okposo, who spent much of his career with the New York Islanders skating alongside John Tavares, one of the most gifted centers currently in the NHL.
Okposo went on to talk about moving on from the whirlwind offseason and just getting back to playing some hockey, especially after a season as crazy as the last one. “Now we can focus on playing hockey and teaching these young guys how to be pros, and how to bring it every night.”
Other Sabres Training Camp Updates
In other Sabres updates from day one of training camp, when asked what the team vaccination rate is, Adams answered with a confident “One hundred percent.” When asked about the one hundred percent vaccination rate, Okposo said “Once they said that they weren’t going to file for the exemption to go to Canada, that really put a lot of pressure on the people that were holding out because it’s a huge chunk of the season that you’re not going to get paid for. You know, it’s funny what happens when you start to affect people’s wallets.”
Adams said that defenseman Mattias Samuelsson is week-to-week with a lower body injury, while Jack Quinn and Brandon Biro are day-to-day. No serious injuries have been sustained yet by any other of the 58 players on the training camp roster. The Sabres open day two of training camp on Friday, so be sure to follow along for all the updates.
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15