Jack Eichel sounded like he needed to vent. Right now, the captain’s frustrations extend beyond the Buffalo Sabres’ embarrassing last-place finish and missing the playoffs in each of his first six NHL seasons.
In Eichel’s first comments since he herniated a disc in his neck March 7, he acknowledged a “disconnect” between himself and the 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 Monday as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings inside KeyBank Center. “I would be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury.”
Remember, there was speculation the ultra-talented Eichel, the face of the franchise, wanted to be traded before he spoke Monday.
Would Eichel, 24, like to be a part of the solution in Buffalo? Would he like to move on?
The center chose his words carefully.
“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.
“But right now for me, I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be. The losing’s tough. It takes a toll.”
Eichel said “there’s been a little bit of … my own camp on one page and the team on another” in dealing with his injury.
“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 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.”
Eichel wants to move forward doing what’s best for himself.
“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.”
The Sabres revealed little information about Eichel’s condition before announcing April 14 he would miss the rest of the season. Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, who’s scheduled to address the media Wednesday, said then Eichel would be re-evaluated early this month.
Eichel endured a rough season, 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.
“It’s just lingered for a while,” he said of the abdominal problem. “It’s been really hard to pinpoint what the exact issue is. There’s some stuff that has been unresolved.”
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.”
The no-movement clause in Eichel’s eight-year, $80 million contract kicks in after next season, according to capfriendly.com. He has five years left on the deal.
Will Eichel or center Sam Reinhart, the Sabres’ leading scorer, be around much longer? A less than enthused Reinhart, who can become a restricted free agent, sounded like he wants a change of scenery.
“No one wants to go through a rebuild, especially into next year, turning 26 at the start of it or close to the start of it,” he said Monday. “It’s tough not being able to play meaningful games down the stretch.”