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Making The Best Out Of Losing Your Best Player

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Jack Eichel won’t be with the Sabres much longer and boy does reality stink

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Islanders
Eichel’s frustrations on and off the ice would be enough for anyone else to want out
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the effort of taunting the Cold Takes Exposed spirits, it’s time for Buffalo Sabres fans to face the fact that Jack Eichel will never wear Western New York’s blue and gold again.

Eichel will be traded and the destination is unknown, but make no mistake he’s gone.

But Joe, the Sabres and Eichel can totally mend fences and get the band back together again!

Wrong!

The line drawn in the sand between Eichel and the Sabres organization regarding the herniated disk in his neck has been a true battle of passive-aggressive behavior. Eichel sought out a second opinion after Sabres doctors wanted him to do physical rehabilitation to see if that would help things out. Eichel wants to have a semi-experimental artificial disk transplant surgery. Although the operation is approved by the medical field, it’s new and it’s only been done on a handful of MMA fighters. It sounds scary (and it is, it’s neck surgery after all) and Eichel wants to prolong his career.

Eichel said he wants to do what’s best for himself. The Sabres don’t want to see him go under the knife and risk the rest of their $80 million investment in him. General Manager Kevyn Adams says Sabres doctors and Eichel’s own doctors agree that rehab is the best way to handle it and that they’re not going back on that stance.

Why don’t they just let him have the surgery then? They want him to lead the team, right?

Of course the Sabres want to retain Eichel. He’s an elite player with elite skill and they bottomed out to last place on purpose to draft either him or Connor McDavid. A lot of hard work and failure went into making sure they could do that. Then again, the Sabres have failed to surround Eichel with the kind of talent needed in general to be a playoff team, never mind a Stanley Cup champion. Sure, McDavid has made the playoffs with the Edmonton Oilers but it hasn’t been paradise for him either.

Eichel wants to win and he relishes in victories. Seeing Eichel with a cocky swagger on and off the ice is when you know you’re getting the absolute best of him. A sullen, frustrated Eichel is what we’ve witnessed far more often and who wouldn’t be if they were in his shoes. Losing sucks and the Sabres do a lot of it for myriad reasons.

Well, fine if Eichel is going to be a baby then just let him sit out! He’s got a contract, Joe!

Yes, he does have a contract with five years remaining on it. It’s also a contract with a no-move clause that kicks in after next season. If you’re Adams and assistant GM Jason Karmanos you’re well aware of that fact and if you decide to ride out the year through thick and thin, having any possible deal to any possible team being nixed by Eichel because it’s not where he wants to go doesn’t sound appealing.

Sabres fans likely don’t want to see Eichel in Boston or Manhattan with the Rangers so he can potentially haunt Buffalo for the rest of his career. Think of how annoying it was to see Dominik Hasek demand his way out of Buffalo to the Detroit Red Wings and win a Cup. Think of how much worse it was when they opted to move Ryan O’Reilly because all the losing made him wish he did anything else apart from play hockey.

Wait… If we trade Eichel does that mean we’re rebuilding again?

Again? Has it ever stopped? The Sabres have been in a perpetual state of rebuilding since Darcy Regier started it all in 2013. Drafting Eichel and Sam Reinhart was part of the first wave. Tim Murray trading for O’Reilly, Evander Kane, and Robin Lehner was supposed to make sure the rebuild didn’t take forever. Losing those three players within seasons of each other showed that plan didn’t work. Jason Botterill tried to reinvigorate the prospect pipeline yet didn’t sign Brandon Hagel among other Murray draft picks and the organization ultimately said they wanted to focus on development more when they fired him last summer. That should’ve been a giant red flag for what was to come, but then they signed Taylor Hall and Terry Pegula started to hallucinate about winning a Cup right away again. At least Hall’s lottery luck rubbed off on the Sabres this year so they didn’t go away totally empty handed.

But that’s the whole thing, once they trade Eichel for what should be the boatload of goodies of their choice – the genuine rebuild is on. If you’re Reinhart, do you want to stick around for more? It’s a big domino waiting to fall.

I don’t know how much more of this I can handle…

I’d like to tell you it’s going to get better but after 10 years out of the playoffs, if I said it would you believe me? I would hope not. Adams will be judged for what he gets for Eichel and there’s no choice but to come away with a package that both gives them immediate help at the NHL level and in the pipeline. If he comes up short… Well, now you see how it can get worse. After all, the Sabres can finish 32nd next season.