BUFFALO – So much for getting any clarity on Jack Eichel’s uncertain future.
Sure, Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams relayed some new information Thursday as training camp opened. The injured star, as expected, failed his physical. Not surprisingly, he was also stripped of his captaincy.
But nearly seven months after Eichel injured his neck, there appears to be no resolution on the horizon.
Eichel, 24, still refuses to have the fusion surgery the team’s doctors prefer to repair his herniated disc. Instead, the center wants to undergo an artificial disc replacement, a procedure that has never been performed on an NHL player.
The collective bargaining agreement states players must follow the recommendation of team doctors. The Sabres are in control.
How long could this drag on? Neither side is budging.
“We had an easy solution, (fusion),” Adams said prior to the first sessions of camp inside KeyBank Center. “We would’ve acted on it. We’ll continue to look at every possible scenario of how we move forward. There’s a CBA for a reason.”
It’s hard to imagine Eichel, the face of the franchise, will ever play another game for the Sabres.
“We will stick to our plan and we’re not going to cave or back down because of pressure or because people are saying you have to do this,” Adams said. “We will do what we believe is right.”
Eichel has been placed on injured reserve. The Sabres, of course, are open to trading him. Adams acknowledged he has been talking to his counterparts about him.
“I don’t think it’s smart for me to speculate on down the road, in the future, what could or couldn’t happen, but we are adamant that we are going to stay on top of this, do what’s best for the franchise,” Adams said. “And whether that means today, or it means it takes time, I don’t want to put a timeline on it.”
So Eichel’s problems could hang over the Sabres for a long time. Still, Adams, coach Don Granato and veteran winger Kyle Okposo were adamant it won’t be a distraction.
Okposo said Adams laid out everything to the team Wednesday.
“The key for us now is they have clarity,” Adams said of his players. “The players have heard it directly from me. They understand exactly the situation we’re in. They are now all about, ‘How do we move forward together? Who is in this locker room? Why are they in this locker room? How do we get better?’
“That’s what those guys are talking about every day, and that’s what gets me excited. So it doesn’t diminish the fact there’s a friend of theirs that’s in this situation. But this is a mature group.”
Okposo said Adams told his players “what was going on and it quelled any questions that anybody had.”
“So there’s no distractions anymore,” Okposo said. “It’s all out there internally in the organization. Nobody is really thinking about it. Everybody is moving forward.”
Granato believes the Sabres possesses the right makeup to block out any distractions.
“That’s why I’m excited to be back, because you’ve got guys that are very driven,” he said. “And a driven person is always in the moment and that other stuff doesn’t affect them as much.”
Okposo said the new edition of the Sabres, a group mostly comprised of young players and journeymen, takes him back to his early days in hockey.
“We have a group in there that’s very hungry to play and it feels a lot like it did back when I was younger, even before I got into the league, where you go to practice and you sit after for 30 minutes and just shoot the breeze in the locker room,” he said. “Everyone just wants to be around each other and everyone wants to play and everybody wants to prove themselves and be better.
“You could feel that nervous energy in there today. It was great to see. It’s great to see that hunger and that fire in guys. There’s a lot of competition going into camp.”
As a slew of Sabres compete for jobs, Adams said Eichel will probably continue his rehab at a different facility. He doesn’t want to be a distraction.
“He doesn’t want to take away from what we are trying to build here, so he will continue his rehab, not necessarily in this facility on a daily basis, but then we’ll work toward where we go from here,” Adams said.
Adams said the captaincy, a position he calls “the heartbeat of your team,” won’t be filled this season. He wants his players grow together and figure things out on their own.
“It’s not unprecedented that you kind of let it play out,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of voices in there that are strong, that are good pros.”