Analysis: Sabres back at Square 1 in seeking to trade Eichel
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - So much for the Sabers' so-called and celebrated "Tank Year" in 2014-15, when fans openly cheered a late-season loss to the Arizona Coyotes to essentially seal Buffalo's last place.
With a patchwork roster of journeymen, minor league and youngsters, the Sabers managed to bottom out as part of a long-term vision of starting a fresh start and rebuilding by calling in a fundamental franchise player like Jack Eichel finished second behind Edmonton's Connor McDavid in 2015.
Six lost seasons, four coaches, two general managers and two last places later, the Sabers find themselves back in first place.
Acorn is in the market to complete GM Kevyn Adams' second year off-season slate clearing to start over and part ways with players expressing disinterest in staying in Buffalo. It started with veteran Sabers defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen moving to Philadelphia on Friday and moving on to the Florida Panthers a day later with striker Sam Reinhart.
Although Adams said on Saturday that he would have no problem if Eichel was still on the roster at training camp in September, the signs suggest that the franchise will be released this week and before the NHL's free agent signing period begins Wednesday is treated.
Late Sunday, Sportsnet.ca from Canada quoted Eichel representatives, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, as saying, "Our expectation is that Jack will be traded in the near future and all of our discussions have centered on this issue."
Fish didn't return a text message from The Associated Press on Monday.
The rift in a bitter divorce arose from what Eichel referred to as "a breakup" with the team in handling a herniated disc that forced the player to miss the final two months of the season. Eichel advocated disc replacement surgery while Sabers medical staff oppose it, noting that such a procedure has never been performed on an NHL player.
The disagreements remain unresolved, leaving open the possibility that Eichel's next team must determine the best course of action.
The injury was the crux of the matter for Eichel.
His days seemed numbered when Adams took office last summer, preparing to make his mark on an ailing franchise. In September, teams contacted Adams about the possible availability of Eichel, which Adams confirmed when he said he had no intention of trading players.
Public speculation about Eichel's status in Buffalo didn't go down well with the team's highest-paid player, who insisted he wasn't the one looking for a trade.
What followed was a string of injuries, starting with Eichel breaking a rib during a training session on the ice prior to the start of training camp, causing the five-time 20-goal scorer to hit a two-goal, 18-point low of the season was limited in 21 games.
An internal debate over Eichel's media resulted in a number of mixed messages from the team about the severity of the injury and when he could return. The tide finally turned to Eichel.
Adams has consistently said that he respects Eichel as a player and person.
At the same time, Adams has reiterated that he believes the future depends on a young core of developing players who have shown solidarity and a desire to be in Buffalo over the last half of the season under new coach Don Granato.
"We have to create a culture and foundation here that is almost one of those situations where you get up in the morning and can't wait to get on the rink," said Adams. “I see signs of it and I'm excited about it. The foundation of our organization must be properly built, must be strong. And I think we made great strides this weekend. "
That core does not appear to encompass Eichel and instead points to the Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt centers, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, and finally Owen Power, the University of Michigan defender who Buffalo designed as # 1 on Friday.
Acorn is a warning to franchises looking for a shortcut to restart. Acorn was essentially Buffalo's consolation prize, with then-GM Tim Murray hoping the Sabers McDavid would land before losing the draft lottery to Edmonton.
Murray struggled to hide his frustration by saying "I'm disappointed with our fans" for missing the chance to vote first.
The comment set the tone for a franchise that was struggling to build a team around Eichel, compounded by the owners' impatience to turn a revolving door in the ranks of management and coach.
Meanwhile, everything Acorn and the Sabers know is losing, and Buffalo is in the midst of a 10-year playoff drought on par with the NHL record.
Eichel expressed his displeasure after the 2019-20 season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic by saying he was "tired of losing" and adding: "It's been a tough five years where things have been going".
Soon Eichel may no longer have to worry about it.
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American ice hockey player
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