It was always going to be Vegas. It was always meant to be Vegas.
Jack Eichel is off to Vegas and is no longer a Buffalo Sabre thus ending a sad, frustrating, and very defeated chapter in franchise history.
After months of rumors and speculation and patience to the point of exhaustion, the Buffalo Sabres traded Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights after months of being in a holding pattern as Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams held firm in his resolve to get the best return. Whether or not you like adding Vegas’ top prospect Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch and his Upstate New York pride, it’s a deal that’s impossible to say one side “won the trade” or not. It’ll take time, just like making the trade did in the first place. And you know what? That’s perfect for the Sabres.
Regardless of the encouraging start to the season the Sabres have had, they’re a team that’s not in position to get in over their heads and start thinking they can make the playoffs right away. Thinking big like that is essentially how this era that began with everyone screaming about “tanking” and whether it was ethical or not. (Aside: It was fine, if you’re not trying the game the system you’re not trying — see Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning.)
Someone once smartly said to me about the Sabres was that they tried to cheat the rebuild and you can’t cheat a rebuild. Tim Murray trading for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner after drafting Sam Reinhart and Eichel was his means to get Buffalo to the postseason before whatever the originally targeted date was. Murray didn’t want to wait around, the feelings were up and positive after landing Eichel, and, to his credit, he did acquire some very good players. It’s just for those players it wasn’t the right time for them, personally or professionally (or both), nor was it the right time for the Sabres. Sacrificing future draft capital to get them was a gamble and sometimes the house hits 21.
What happened to the Sabres was sadder than that metaphor and it’s sad because of the hope and anticipation all of it brought. However you feel about Eichel, he is a top-10 talent in the NHL and if there was ever a player who could’ve been the most apt to represent a city it was Eichel. Buffalo embraced him immediately and Eichel boozily slurring, “Buffalo... I’m coming for ya!” was one hell of a way to introduce yourself to your future home, but for some reason, it fit. Eichel should’ve been the guy to end the playoff drought and win even more and that he won’t be is sad in a genuine sense.
What’s worse is there are plenty that won’t see it that way and will happily jeer Eichel in his first game back in Buffalo whenever that occurs. Maybe they’ve always felt that way because he wasn’t Connor McDavid or because he didn’t have a cuddly persona; maybe they’ll boo because he admitted to Elliotte Friedman in an interview after the trade was finalized that he asked to be moved a year ago. Whatever the reason just remember it’s not his fault everything came apart after the years.
Having gone through three general managers and three coaches during Eichel’s tenure makes it plain to see where the blame lies, but he tried his damnedest even if his demeanor often didn’t make it seem that way. Seeing Eichel in the room after particularly hard losses, his frustrations mostly kept him from ever having a full tirade in front of the assembled media. The intensity on his face and body language was enough of a tell to know how he really felt.
Everyone moves on from this unfortunate and disappointing era feeling relieved, if not excited. The Sabres have nearly cleaned house of everyone who was responsible both on and off the ice (Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Dahlin aside). It truly is Adams’ team and he’ll be judged constantly, particularly now that he’s expelled the previous generation of promise to continue pressing on to the future and the hope it provides. Eichel gets a chance to have his health improved in the manner he wishes and will be a No. 1 guy on a very good Vegas team.
It’s not the ending anyone intended to happen, but it’s the one that was fatefully meant to be.