The Buffalo Sabres shutout loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday capped off a nightmare season in which the club finished last in the NHL (15-34-7) for the third time since 2015 and fired head coach Ralph Krueger, but the hits just keep on coming for the troubled organization, as team captain Jack Eichel in his year-end media availability indicated that there has been little communication between himself and the organization since being injured in early March.
“I’ve been a bit upset about the way that things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. I would be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. So yeah, I think that there’s been a bit of a disconnect from the organization and myself,” Eichel said. “I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be. I think the losing stuff, it takes a toll. It’s all perspective and I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Eichel played injured for most of the season, scoring just 18 points (2 goals, 16 assists) in 21 games before suffering a season-ending neck injury in early March. The 2015 top pick indicated that he and the Sabres have a disagreement on how to proceed in addressing the injury.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that Eichel was committed to surgery in early May, but that late last month Sabres team doctors were still determining the best course of action and have not signed off on how to proceed. Dreger indicated that agent Peter Fish has consulted with reps for the NHLPA about a potential medical grievance.
“(It) doesn’t work like that. You hit the nail on the head there. I mean obviously I’m under contract with this team and (they) definitely hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do.” Eichel said. “I’m just like anyone I think in my position you just want to try and put (my)self in as good a position as you can to be ready to rock when the puck drops next year.”
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The Sabres top center has five years remaining on an eight-year, $80 million contract, but his contract has a no-movement clause that kicks in after the 2021-22 season. That could limit Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams’ ability to generate a market to get the best return for Eichel, which is imperative in a potential trade, but the health questions could also mitigate the return.
“My number one interest and my number one goal is Jack Eichel. You’ve got to look out for yourself, you got to look after what you think is best for yourself and the organization has a similar job to do, to look after what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres.” Eichel said. “Things I guess maybe have just haven’t been very black and white, to put it in perspective. We’re all trying to educate ourselves in this situation and what would be best moving forward. There have been some tough conversations but, I’ve got to do what’s best for me. I’m only gonna play hockey for so long, (I’m) 24 years old, hopefully I have many more good years in this amazing game left, but I’ve got to take care of myself.”