In Jack Eichel’s first comments since he herniated a disc in his neck March 7, the captain acknowledged a “disconnect” between himself and the Buffalo Sabres over how his season-ending injury has been handled.
“I would say I’ve been a bit upset about the way things have been handled since I’ve been hurt,” Eichel said on a 25-minute Zoom call this afternoon as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings inside KeyBank Center following their last-place finish. “I would be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury.”
Eichel, who has expressed frustration over the Sabres’ constant losing, said “there’s been a little bit of … my own camp on one page and the team on another.”
“That’s been tough,” he said. “We’re kind of going back and forth a bit on the best way to go about it, treatment, so there’s been a few conversations but more so just about getting healthy moving forward.”
Eichel, 24, clearly wants to have surgery. He said because he’s under contract with the Sabres, he doesn’t have the final say.
“They definitely hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do,” he said.
Eichel, who traveled to seek different opinions about his injury, said the recovery from the surgery would be “pretty quick.”
“You just want to try to put yourself in as good a position as you can to be ready to rock when puck drops next year,” he said. “That’s my goal. I’ve talked to a whole heck of a lot of people and a lot of different opinions. So I just try to inform myself as much as I can.
“Obviously, this is kind of like uncharted territory for probably a lot of us in how to move forward.”
The Sabres offered very few updates on Eichel before announcing April 14 he would miss the rest of the season. Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said then the center would be re-evaluated early this month.
Eichel said he wants to do what’s best for himself. He never mentioned asking for a trade.
“Listen, my No. 1 interest and my No. 1 goal is Jack Eichel, you know what I mean?” he said. “You’ve got to look after yourself, you’ve got to look after what you think is best for yourself, and the organization has a similar job to do but it’s to look after what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres.
“Yeah, it was tough. I think that there was a little bit of things I guess maybe just haven’t been very black and white, to put it in perspective. I think we’re all trying to educate ourselves on the situation and what would be best moving forward.”
Would he still like to be a part of the solution in Buffalo? Would he like to move on?
“I think that’s a pretty loaded question,” said Eichel, the second overall pick in 2015. “I think there’s a lot to it. For sure, I would say I’ve been a bit upset about the way things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. I would be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. So, yeah, I think there’s been a bit of a disconnect, I think, from the organization and myself. It’s been tough at times.
Eichel endured the roughest season of his six-year career, mustering just two goals and 18 points in 21 games. He said he fractured the tip of his rib shooting during a workout a few weeks before training camp. He never got on track after missing the early part of camp. He also sprained his ankle in February and was still dealing with an abdominal injury he suffered last season.
The Sabres, meanwhile, fell apart in February, beginning an 18-game winless streak that cost coach Ralph Krueger his job. They’ve missed the playoffs a record-tying 10 consecutive seasons.
“It should be we’re moving on to the playoffs and we had a good year and we’re going to try and win a Stanley Cup,” Eichel said of the season. “That should be the goal of every player at the beginning of the year, every team. That was our goal when we started whenever, in December. Did we reach it? No. Did we have a hard year? Yeah, we did.
“I think when that happens, it forces everyone to just consider what I guess you could do better, what maybe you think the future holds. I think I have a lot of thinking to do this offseason. I think there’s a lot that I have to consider. But for now, obviously, I’m here. I’m the captain of this hockey team and my goal is to be available and to try and help the guys in the room and to help this organization win hockey games. I’ll continue to do that as long as I’m here.”