Jack Eichel has scored just two goals in 17 games this season. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Why is Sabres captain Jack Eichel having such a down season?

BUFFALO – Three weeks ago, Sabres captain Jack Eichel felt confident he would shake off his underwhelming start and, in his words, begin to “take off.”

Eichel, understandably, had trouble adjusting to the dizzying pace of the schedule earlier this season.

An upper-body injury sidelined him the first five days of an abbreviated training camp. Then he played 10 games in 18 days following barely a week of practice.

So the COVID-19 pause that began Feb. 2 helped refresh Eichel, who used the time off to rest his body and study video of his exploits from last season.

But Eichel, 24, hasn’t resembled his old self since the season resumed. In seven outings – a lower-body injury shelved him two games last week – he has registered zero goals and three assists.

In 17 games this season entering tonight’s road contest against the New York Rangers, Eichel has scored only two goals and 14 points. His shooting percentage is just 3.8. Last season, it was 15.9%.

Incredibly, Eichel has mustered only one goal and five points at even strength.

Instead of solidifying his place among the NHL’s elite centers, Eichel might be enduring the worst season of his career. It certainly looks like it could be the most turbulent.

On Feb. 22, the night before he suffered a lower-body injury, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said Eichel wasn’t playing hurt.

“For me, it’s a confidence factor and he needs to stick with it and persevere here,” Krueger said following the Sabres’ 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders.

So why hasn’t Eichel looked anything like the player who generated MVP chatter while scoring 36 goals and 78 points in 68 games last season?

A scout who has watched Eichel throughout his career said he believes the lack of personal and team success is weighing on him. By now, after six seasons, he was supposed to have helped them morph into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

Instead, he has yet to sniff the postseason. Considering the Sabres rank last in the loaded East Division, their playoff drought will likely hit 10 seasons, a stunning number that would tie the NHL record.

Naturally, Eichel’s confidence has suffered.

“He looks to me like an unhappy camper,” the scout said. “I have noticed it more this year. It’s my guess he knows it’s not working here. Yeah, he’s been nicked up a bit with some injuries, but nothing that should be keeping him at two goals.”

When Eichel was a surprise scratch after skating in Thursday’s pregame warm-up, it was believed the injury he suffered Tuesday in New Jersey kept him from playing. While he finished the 4-1 win against the Devils, he appeared to hurt his ankle or foot in a collision with Nico Hischier.

But following Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey, Krueger said Eichel suffered a different injury in the warm-up.

Then after Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, Eichel said he was hurt Tuesday.

Why aren’t Eichel and Krueger on the same page?

Krueger said Sunday there was no miscommunication over Eichel’s injury and he did not hide it for a bit of gamesmanship.

His answer, however, was puzzling.

“When I mentioned it, the specific region that actually took him out of the game the first time I’d heard about it was warm-up,” Krueger said. “But that he was injured and he came out of the Jersey game injured was clear to me. But it turns out there were multiple lower-body injuries and whatever. The point is that he came out of Jersey hurt.

“The warm-up call and the region that ended up being aggravated, it was his first time back in his skates that game and it changed the game. Now we’re working on his health and getting him fit again. I definitely didn’t do gamesmanship there; it was just that we had hoped he was going to play that game.”

Notes: The Edmonton Oilers claimed goalie Alex Stalock on Monday. There was speculation the Sabres might be interested in him because a lower-body injury will sideline No. 1 goalie Linus Ullmark at least one month. … The Sabres sent defenseman Brandon Davidson back to the taxi squad on Monday. … The Sabres did not practice Monday.

7 thoughts on “Why is Sabres captain Jack Eichel having such a down season?”

  1. Hockey … in case nobody has noticed is a sport whos result is probably based on luck 80% of the time. Unless Jack is actually “trying” to not score … there is no other explanation why his average is 3.8% when it averages nearly 15%. The rest of the team is also suffering such “bad luck”. This will turn around of course as the law of averages will eventually bring Jack’s average back up to par. Unfortunately, this stretch of bad luck has completely frazzled the team, coaching, fan base and media. By the time the goals start pouring in … it will have been too late. Buffalo IMO is simply cursed.

  2. It looks like he wants out. Who can blame him GM and ownership seem to be missed

    1. Trade Eichel while he still has good value… He quit on his owners, coach, teammates, and Buffalo fans… He is a talented hockey player… but he is not a leader of men…

  3. My Sabres put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Time to hire Mike Babcock…….

  4. There’s no amount of anything that revolves around bad luck right now, it’s 100% DISFUNCTION from the top down! Players call Ralph the snake charmer who hasn’t a clue how to couch in the modern NHL who’s style and analogies are antiquated for this young group. The want to trade Skinner but he’ll only go to either the Rangers or Leafs and that’s not gonna happen.

    It’s being said Eichel has become distant and just flat out pissy with everyone.(can you blame him?) He’s made made mention how he’d love to play in either NY or BOS and his head in the clouds and close trainers allege he’s only playing to not get hurt.

    Their was a time that Dury was close to being the new GM and he wanted some guarantees that Kim would not be involved in player or on ice decisions. Ultimately Terry really didn’t want to bring in Druy for fear the fans would love him a bit too much that it would undermine his authority on hard decisions.

    Here’s what baffles me. Beane and McDermott put their foot down ahed of time and do not have the Pegulas involved with player and on field decisions. Why would they? Neither has played or ever even coached football, makes sense don’t it? They chased away are beloved Pat laFontaine who wanted to and should have been and should still be apart of this organization being the president of hockey operations. Kim thinks she’s knows hockey which is a joke! You’ve tried and you have failed miserably! Time to join the other 98% of NHL owners who don’t pretend to be hokey people and actually hire a PHO.

    1. @Lilbailnick. I enjoyed your take and can’t disagree with much of it… but am wondering.

      When you refer to “it’s being said” about Eichel’s attitude… I wonder by whom? Other fans like us that really don’t know for sure and are hypothesizing, or a legitimate good source from inside the organization that you are privy to such information?

      You also mentioned Chris Drury being close to being hired here, and there is another set of news item I have never heard was ‘close’ to happening. Only fans hoping it to happen or media considering the possibility.

      I am truly asking in all sincerity and respect… Where is this source material coming from? It’s very interesting, but as you know and can imagine — we hear so many stories and wonder what is really true. Thanks.

  5. Being a Sabre fan for the last 40 yrs stings.With this team loaded with talent something is brutally wrong.Being a fan from Nova Scotia Canada could more Sabre fans from the city of Buffalo does the problem lie with Kim? This needs to be fixed something must be done asap.Hurts to watch the lackluster effort everytime I turn on the TV

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