Vancouver Sun



Jack Eichel's season came to an abrupt end two months ago when he suffered a herniated disc in his neck that caused him to miss the final 35 games. It looks as though his tenure with the Buffalo Sabres ended around the same time.

You might as well start the trade rumours now.

I don't know if Eichel is going to be sent to the New York Rangers or the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Montreal Canadiens. But this much is clear: he's not returning to Buffalo.

That's not a guess anymore. The relationsh­ip between Eichel and the Sabres is over. It's beyond broken. And no free agent acquisitio­n or coaching change is going to repair it.

Eichel, who is under contract for five more years, would not confirm whether he has asked for a trade. But he didn't need to. His comments during Monday's exit interview said it all.

A year ago, Eichel complained that he was “fed up and I'm frustrated” after the Sabres had missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year. On Monday, his range of emotions went from frustrated to being angry — not only at the backwards direction the team is headed, but in how they mishandled a couple of injuries that sidelined Eichel for more than half the season.

“I'd be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury,” said Eichel, who played with a rib that was broken in the pre-season and then suffered a herniated disc in his neck in March.

“There's been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organizati­on. It's been tough at times. Right now, for me, the most important thing now is to try to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

As if Eichel needed another reason to leave.

How many coaches has he burned through already? How many general managers have tried to fix this team and ended up making it worse? How many players have come to Buffalo and become worse — and then left and had their careers resurrecte­d?

While this is the 10th straight year the Sabres have failed to qualify for the playoffs, it is Year 6 for Eichel. In the first five years, Buffalo finished 23rd, 26th, 31st, 27th and 25th overall. This season, they are in dead last.

Things are not getting better. They are getting worse. And if that wasn't bad enough, everywhere Eichel looks are examples of what might have been had he not wasted the prime years of his career on a continuous rebuild that isn't anywhere close to completion.

It can't help watching Edmonton's Connor McDavid reach the 100-point mark for a team that is sitting in second place in the North Division. Or seeing Toronto's Auston Matthews score 40 goals for a team that is heading to the post-season for the fifth straight year.

It has to hurt knowing that Taylor Hall, whom Buffalo acquired specifical­ly to play alongside Eichel but then traded away at the deadline, is now gearing up for a playoff run in Boston while Eichel answers the same end-of-year questions about why nothing has changed.

“The losing stuff, it takes a toll,” Eichel said. “I'm frustrated. You can't sit here on Media Day and say you're happy about this situation.”

The Sabres didn't just miss the playoffs again this year. They crashed and burned. After a miserable stretch where they lost 18 consecutiv­e games, some accused them of tanking for a chance to draft No. 1 overall. That's how poorly coached and poorly managed they have been.

Eichel had just two goals in 21 games before getting hurt. Hall had two goals in 37 games before he was traded. Rasmus Dahlin, who was a No. 1 pick and is learning all about the frustratio­ns Eichel has been feeling as the team's captain, was a leaguewors­t minus-36.

It's a testament to Eichel's loyalty that he has been this patient for this long. That he hasn't already asked for a trade when so many others have. But with the team now destined for yet another rebuild, it's no wonder the 24-year-old is finally searching for an exit.

“There's been some tough conversati­ons but I've got to do what's best for me,” said Eichel. “I'm only going to play hockey for so long. Hopefully I have many more good years in this amazing game, but I've got to take care of myself.”

It's not just Eichel who has reached his breaking point.

When asked about wanting to return to the Sabres, pending restricted free agent Sam Reinhart avoided the question and said he needed time to think about the future. Rasmus Ristolaine­n was more direct.

“I can't go for another rebuild,” said the defenceman, who has missed the playoffs in seven years in Buffalo. “If he (the GM) trades me, I'm fine with that, too.”

Can you blame them? For Eichel, it's been six years. For Reinhart it's been seven years. For Ristolaine­n, it's been eight years. That's a career's worth of futility.

The fact that Ryan O'Reilly won a Stanley Cup immediatel­y after leaving the Sabres and that Hall has six goals in 15 games since being traded to Boston is further proof the grass is a lot greener outside of Buffalo.

“It's all perspectiv­e” said Eichel. “I have a lot of thinking to do in this off-season. I think that there's a lot that I have to consider. But for now, obviously, I'm here.”

Well, not for long.

 ?? BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES FILES ?? Jack Eichel has spent six losing seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and says there has been “a bit of a disconnect” between himself and the organizati­on following his injury this year.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES FILES Jack Eichel has spent six losing seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and says there has been “a bit of a disconnect” between himself and the organizati­on following his injury this year.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada