BUFFALO – Jack Eichel looked like he would’ve rather been anywhere else. The Sabres center was fidgety throughout his six-minute chat with the media this afternoon, mostly giving short answers.
Eichel, 20, isn’t handling the Sabres’ last-place finish in the Atlantic Division – they also ended 2016-17 an embarrassing 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference – very well.
“It’s tough,” a seething Eichel said inside KeyBank Center as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings. “You’re not where you want to be.”
So what must change for the Sabres, who have missed the playoffs six straight seasons?
“We got to win instead of lose,” Eichel said.
That losing has clouded Sabres coach Dan Bylsma’s future. Bylsma just completed the second season of a five-year deal.
Will he be back? It appears so. Bylsma said he has spoken to Sabres general manager Tim Murray.
“I have had conversations, just as I always have had with Tim,” he said. “Going forward.”
But Bylsma hasn’t developed the winning culture many thought he would by now. He might have an ultimatum next season.
Eichel, who reportedly sat in his full uniform long after Sunday’s season-ending 4-2 loss in Tampa Bay was over, doesn’t think enough players hate losing as much as he does.
“That’s what a winning culture is, not being satisfied with yourself, not being satisfied with losing,” he said. “I think it’s important to realize you can’t be satisfied with the fact you’re in the NHL. I’m here to win. It’s pretty frustrating. I think guys want to win.
“There’s a difference between saying you want to win and actually wanting to win and working, dedicating your life to it. When you do that and it doesn’t work, it’s pretty frustrating.”
So does Eichel think the Sabres have too many passengers?
“There’s a lot of great guys in the room,” he said. “I’m not going to call anybody a passenger. I love all those guys. I enjoy being around them every day, just didn’t do enough to put our team where it needed to be. As a group, we all need to look in the mirror.”
What should they see when they look the mirror?
“I hope we figure out how to bring a more consistent effort with preparing ourselves better, day in, day out, coming with a better insight of what it takes to win nightly in this league,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “It’s a tough league. There’s a lot of parity, there’s a lot of good teams.”
Gionta said the Sabres’ inconsistencies and struggles came from maturity and preparation.
“We got to find a way to fall back on our foundation, and at times we didn’t have a foundation to fall back on,” he said. “We didn’t have a style of play that we were playing consistently enough that when things weren’t going our way, this is what we fall back on and how we stop that momentum.”
Bylsma, of course, knows the Sabres must change going forward.
Based on comments throughout the season, some players don’t like the team’s style and haven’t bought into it. Bylsma said coaches talk to players about the systems and believe they’re “on the same page and have a good understanding of that system and how we play.”
Still, Bylsma said “we can’t expect to continue to do the same things and do it the same way and have a better result.”
“That change … comes with some uncomfortable times and some unhappy people at different times,” he said. “But that’s something that were going to keep pushing on and pushing for our team, because we have to know that we have to change if we’re going to develop a team that we can be, which we think is a winning team.”
Check back later for more on the Sabres.
Bylsma had no update on winger Kyle Okposo, who was reportedly released from the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital on Friday.