Jack Eichel is frustrated with the Sabres. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Doctor makes case for Sabres’ Jack Eichel having disc replacement surgery

Undergoing artificial disc replacement surgery is the best short- and long-term option to repair the herniated disc in Jack Eichel’s neck, according to a Colorado-based neurosurgeon who has examined the Buffalo Sabres captain.

Dr. Chad Prusmack told the “31 Thoughts” podcast that Eichel, who wants to undergo disc replacement surgery, could play six to 12 weeks after having the procedure.

The Sabres don’t want Eichel to undergo disc replacement surgery, which Prusmack would perform. Prusmack said having anterior cervical discectomy fusion, the surgery the team reportedly prefers, might sideline Eichel seven to nine months.

Eichel wants to be traded and said in May he has a “disconnect” with the Sabres over the injury.

An active NHL player has never undergone disc replacement surgery. Prusmack said mixed-martial arts fighters and rugby players have had the procedure.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement states players must follow the recommendation of team doctors.

Prusmack said around 25% of patients who undergo ACDF need another fusion in 10 years. He said 4.5 to 5% of artificial disc patients need another surgery within 10 years.

“As a doctor, I’ve got to look at the whole picture,” Prusmack said. “I mean, I don’t want to see Jack Eichel because we defaulted to a surgery that he did not want … that when he’s 60 taking care of his grandchildren, he’s had fusions up and down the spine and maybe has difficulty swallowing, etc. And it’s my job to make sure that he not only performs in a safe way but he wants to perform as him. … I have to be his advocate for that.

“And if anyone says that a fusion is better in the long run, they are not telling the truth or they do not know the literature.”

Prusmack said the fact an NHL player has never had disc replacement surgery shouldn’t be an issue.

“I don’t think that’s an argument or you would never make medical advances in any rhyme or reason,” Prusmack said. “This is not an experimental procedure. This is established in literature as being superior to the ACDF.”

Prusmack said the artificial disc is constructed to handle high-impact hockey hits that force the head to whip back.

“It’s made to handle motion, it’s made to handle those movements,” he said. “That’s why athletes do so good with it. In comparison, I will tell you I would be much more concerned if I had a fusion patient that got hit, because that impact is being imparted to the levels above and below, and that is an accelerated risk.”

Prusmack said he would let his own child undergo the procedure.

“This is one of those operations they wake up from surgery and they want to hug you,” he said. “It is extremely safe.”

Perhaps another team would allow Eichel to have the disc replaced. But given his injury and huge contract, trading him will be difficult. He has five seasons left on his eight-year, $80 million contract.

On July 24, general manager Kevyn Adams said he would have “no problem” if Eichel started the upcoming season with the Sabres. On Thursday, Adams further angered Eichel’s camp by saying the Sabres are “in control of this process.”

On Friday, Eichel’s agents responded by issuing a statement to The Buffalo News and The Athletic saying the Sabres are stymieing the 24-year-old center’s career by refusing to let him undergo artificial disc replacement surgery.

“The process is stopping Jack from playing in the NHL,” wrote Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli.

Prusmack said Eichel deserves the opportunity to choose which procedure he wants to undergo.

“And if he chose the fusion, I’d disagree with it, but I’d totally get it and would back him for it because that’s his choice,” he said. “And if he said, ‘You I don’t want to be the first guy in hockey to get this, that worries me.’ You got it. No problem. Then have at it. But that’s not the case.

“The case is this is a smart man with a smart family who’s done his research and he’s a great person. I just don’t know how a job can get in such a way of a person getting the right surgery for their well-being. I don’t understand it.”

Eichel, the Sabres’ most talented player and the face of the franchise, hasn’t played since injuring his neck March 7.

9 thoughts on “Doctor makes case for Sabres’ Jack Eichel having disc replacement surgery”

  1. Man up Buffalo and let him get the surgery. You were wrong. This impasse is not good for incoming players to witness. You say that you want them to “buy in” to the vision. They think how will the Sabres treat me?

    1. Sabres just want to leave the surgery decision to acquiring team…it should be between Eichel and acquiring team…Sabres should not be making the decision

    2. The problem here is the contract. NHL players must abide by the medical treatment decision of the club’s medical staff according to the current bargaining agreement. Jack signed the contract. That’s horrible that clause was agreed to by the NHL player’s union. You always want control over your own healthcare decisions. Now Eichel can go ahead and get the surgery he wants but he won’t get paid. As far as the surgery itself there are dangers. There’s reasons why no NHL or NFL player has ever had it. Artificial discs fail too. Spinal nerves can be compromised causing numbness and tingling. Fusion surgery also has significant risks (longer rehab is one), the same risks as the artificial disc and the need to have another one. All I know is I can’t see how this is resolved. But if I was him and believed in the artificial disc replacement so strongly then I would just go ahead and have the surgery I wanted and then face the ramifications of contract violation. This whole thing is a sad shame. But Jack needs to be as upset with his union as he is with Sabres’ management.

  2. The sabers need to let Eichel go.they are holding back an amazing talent!he is never going to play to his potential on that team. Its a shame that he can’t make the choice on his medical decisions.they need to amend that rule. Trade him now Buffalo! Lets move on and let Eichel fly!

    1. They would but don’t you understand that any trade suitors are also highly concerned about this medical issue? They don’t want to give the Sabres a kings ransom for Eichel. Plus, the Sabres don’t want to carry a penny of that huge salary. One things for sure JE is not playing this season. Rehab has failed. Dude needs surgery. This is all like high risk poker. If the Sabres won’t budge and keep demanding such elaborate trade compensation then honestly everyone might be the loser.

  3. Mr Eichel has failed conservative therapy. I am the first surgeon in North America to perform a cervical disc replacement and have dedicated my career to understanding the clinical and research designs related to disc replacement. Mr . Eichel should be treated like any other patient – at this stage surgery would be an option presented to the patient.

    The choice of images disc replacement will be key to safety on the ice. Safety stops and other design considerations should be considered in the decision making.

    Neil Duggal MD

    1. Dr Duggal,

      So do you feel that disc replacement is a good option for Mr Eichel? Safe and durable for the rigors of the NHL? The article mentions that it has been performed in MMA and rugby players. What about NFL football players. Or would you recommend an ACDF procedure?

      Thank you,

      Andrew Avery MD

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