The No. 1 trade candidate for the past few months never did change addresses over the off-season and now the Buffalo Sabres return to training camp with a massive question mark surrounding their best player.
On Thursday morning, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams addressed the ongoing situation with Jack Eichel. The 24-year-old centre has been sidelined since March with a herniated disc in his neck, and the team and player disagree on whether or not he should have surgery to repair the injury. Eichel preferred having an artificial disk replacement surgery that has never been performed on an NHL player, while the Sabres were against that option.
As expected, Eichel failed his physical upon returning to Sabres camp and Adams will place him on injured reserve. With the uncertainty over Eichel’s future with the team, the Sabres also announced they were removing him from the captain’s role.
“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “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.”
Drafted second overall in 2015, Eichel has been the centrepiece of a Sabres rebuild that has stalled around him. Eichel improved his point totals and rates in each of his first five seasons, becoming one of the top-producing centres in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Prior to his injury, he had 18 points in 21 games last season.
But as the Sabres have failed to make any progress, not qualifying for the post-season since 2011 and finishing last in the league in 2020-21, Adams spent the off-season re-positioning the rebuild. Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen were traded away this season and starting goalie Linus Ullmark was lost to free agency.
Now all eyes are on Eichel and how the team will resolve the issue.
Eichel has five years remaining on a contract that comes with a $10 million AAV, but obvious questions about his health. That seems to be clouding his value on the trade market.
The Sabres don’t have to rush into a trade they don’t like, given the long-term contract that’s still in place. Adams was asked if Eichel has played his last game in a Sabres uniform.
“(I’m) not going to get into predicting the future,” Adams said. “When it’s the right time that we have a solution we’re going to make the right decision.”
Adams also addressed the ongoing trade speculation around Eichel, and why a move still hasn’t been completed.
“If there was a solution over the course of the summer and that was an opportunity we thought made sense we would have done it,” he said. But obviously that’s not the case so we’ll see where we go from here.
“This is so critical in how we move forward with this franchise with building the culture and engaging with our fan base and getting this group of fans and people to trust this organization,” Adams said. “We have to earn that…we need to build around people who want to be here for the right reasons.”