Deep down we all knew it would come down to this, it was just a matter of when it would happen.
On Monday, Jack Eichel made it clear there were serious problems between the Buffalo Sabres and himself regarding his most recent neck injury and the other injuries he’s sustained in the past couple years. After the sudden firings of Jason Botterill, Randy Sexton, and Steve Greeley last year followed by the hiring of Kevyn Adams and the rumblings of how he listened to calls on Eichel this was destiny to happen.
But destiny is only how the story plays out, and destiny can be changed, but instead this is the journey of how we’ve gotten to this impasse between team and player and ownership that’s got priorities somehow on other things.
It’s incredible to think ownership would have priorities so out of whack that they’d be at loggerheads with their superstar captain with five years and $50 million left on his contract about his health and how to handle it. After all, Eichel is a major investment made by the organization in a player they believed would get them to the playoffs and beyond. That they’d fight with him over how to handle a neck injury is remarkable.
Sure, Eichel may be considering a new kind of surgery to repair the herniated disk, as Elliotte Friedman shared in 31 Thoughts, but messing with one’s neck is serious business for sport and for living life. Choosing poorly has been the franchise’s modus operandi for years now; an ultimate example of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes,” except they’ve only won nothing and came out worse for the wear for it.
But to be blindsided by this would be histrionics.
Six straight seasons of losing hockey, two of which they were the worst team in the NHL and only getting above 80 points once would be enough to make any player want to seek a new address. In Jack’s case, the head-butting over injuries and treatment are enough to push him over the brink.
In Sam Reinhart’s case the self-inflicted wounds of never signing him to a long-term contract when his previous deals were up have come to roost. He’s a restricted free agent again this summer and after the wasteland that was this season, he’s also ready to check out. He put up arguably the most impressive year of his career all while moving back to center.
Reinhart is a year away from being an unrestricted free agent and has the option to go to arbitration this summer. Had the Sabres and Botterill done a long-term contract three years ago the team would be in a much better position with him locked up at a good rate. Now he’ll be able to ask for much more and seems eager to do it anywhere other than Buffalo. Who can blame him?
The younger guys who excelled under Don Granato are excited about their own future but seemingly saddened at the thought of losing Eichel and Reinhart. You can’t fault them for that. Dylan Cozens said he wants to be in Buffalo forever. That’s good, because once those guys are gone they’re going to need him to be the anchor of the ship in the storm of what will be yet another rebuild that’s spurred on by blunders of the not-so distant past.
There’s empathy to be had for Adams in all this. He’s ultimately not responsible for the mistakes made by GMs of the past and he’s certainly not accountable for what whims ownership wants to carry through with. After all, if he tells Terry and Kim “no, I’m not doing that,” who’s to say they won’t treat him the way they did Botterill or Tim Murray or Darcy Regier and cast him aside for a better “yes” man? But there must be a direction and there must be an effort to show that.
Adams is new at the job and you live and learn but being ignorant to what’s going on in front of your face is something more akin to what happens in the owners’ office than anywhere else. If the Pegulas do trust Adams as implicitly as they’ve made it seem then he’s got a Sisyphean task ahead of him to try and right the disorder or else he’ll pass down his inheritance of mistakes from previous regimes along with his and the rest of the Buffalo leadership to the next guy while the Sabres whirl forevermore into the NHL abyss chasing the hope of a Stanley Cup playoff spot.