In 2014, when then GM Tim Murray traded half of the Sabres roster and tanked to the basement of the league to get Connor McDavid, with the consolation prize being Jack Eichel there was a sense of hope in Buffalo for the future of the franchise. People were excited for what the future of an organization that had been terrible since losing Chris Drury and Danny Briere in free agency on July 1st, 2007. I hate this whole “tank for McEichel” thing going on in this city at the time. Hockey’s too much of a team sport that tanking away the franchise for one player, no matter how good they are, won’t give you immediate success. Sabres fans were awful that tank year, actively cheering for the team on the ice to lose. That final game that determined the lottery pick between us and Arizona, I left the building before the first period was even over. It was disgusting. But hey, “we won the tank”…
All that and we didn’t win the lottery for the best player to hit the ice since Wayne Gretzky and…“Buffalo selects Jack Eichel”. Pretty great consolation prize with Jack, the Hobey Baker winner from Boston University with the generational talent and projections to be a super star in the NHL who in any other draft year would’ve easily been the #1 overall pick.
He proved to be an amazing hockey player, so much fun to watch what he could do on the ice and scoring highlight reel goals that would show that he was the best player the Sabres had in a decade. He showed that he could be a legit top 10 player in the NHL.
An awful organization that had a carousel of head coaches and GMs lead to plenty of morale and locker room issues and Jack, as the face of the team was the center of that. There were issues with who was Captain which after Jack got the C on his jersey, lead to Ryan O’Reilly saying he “lost his love for hockey”. The Sabres were at the basement of the NHL and a train wreck of an organization that comes from a decade+ of being an embarrassment of a franchise. ROR left Buffalo and the following year went on to win the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues.
In addition to the locker room problems in Buffalo, Eichel had his own injury issues, most notably, a spinal disc herniation last March that requires surgery to correct. Jack and the Sabres saw the path forward on this injury very differently that has increasingly gotten worse and worse over the last eight months. The Sabres wanted him to get a transfusion surgery that although has a quicker recovery time could give him more long term side effects and pain in the future. He got a second opinion as the NHLPA allows him to and decided the surgery he wanted was an artificial disc replacement surgery, which has never been done on an NHL player before but has been for several other athletes in other sports. Eichel wanted to do that he believed was the best option for him and his body, which I think every human individually has the right to make the decisions on, not anyone else (also my thoughts on vaccine mandates, but that’s an entirely different discussion).
As time went on with this disagreement, the relationship between Jack and the Sabres organization became worse and worse over time to a point where it was beyond any sort of fix. Jack and the franchise were so far apart on this and it was only a matter of time before the Sabres could find a trade partner that would give them what they wanted in exchange for the super star. Buffalo handled this whole situation in a piss poor way and even the way they took so long to shop him around with not releasing his medical information to teams is a fucking joke. They also din’t want to retain any of Jack’s salary that could’ve gotten them a better return or trade them on the east coast where they could have likely gotten a better haul from the Rangers over the summer. The Sabres really dug themselves that hole for no reason that makes sense to me.
Jack said on an interview with Spittin’ Chiclets today, “A lot of people don’t know this but I told Buffalo that if they let me get the surgery I would come back and play there”. It’s really unbelievable how fucking bad the Sabres fucked it up. This kid should’ve been in Buffalo for his whole career, be a top five player in the NHL and they screwed it up. Joke of an organization that I don’t see getting that much better anytime soon unfortunately with issues coming from ownership all the way down to the locker room.
Yesterday morning, the Sabres finally dealt Eichel, trading him to the Vegas Golden Knights (my second favorite NHL team that I’ve been quite vocal about on this blog over the last several years) in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and a first round pick in this year’s upcoming 2022 draft. The Sabres and Knights swapped third round picks in 2023 as well. Great move for Vegas getting the Eich Daddy. Putting him in between Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty on that first line on the Golden Knights is going to be a problem (when they’re all healthy) for anyone to play against. A lot of casual fans in Buffalo complained about what the Sabres got back in this trade, but I actually think what we got is a decent return. With the Sabres sticking to their guns and not letting Jack get the surgery he wanted, he was never going to play here again. So really, they were stuck and even with all of the talent he has, keeping him on the injured reserve forever and not having him in the lineup is a detriment to the team. Not a ton of bargaining power from the Buffalo side on that. The Sabres get back a first round pick that has the possibility to amount to something significant in the future (Buffalo now has three first round picks in next year’s draft that puts them in great shape for a rebuild, despite them being in a “rebuild” for the last decade). Alex Tuch is a good piece to put together a winning team. Watching him play in Vegas over the last four years he has contributed in ways that help you win hockey games. It also helps that he’s originally from only two hours away in Syracuse, NY and grew up a Sabres fan, so he wants to be here. Peyton Krebs was the top prospect in the Vegas organization and hyped up quite a bit and coming to Buffalo he immediately becomes the best prospect in the Sabres system. He was very good in the WHL before he got drafted by the Knights 17th overall in 2019 (he was injured at the time and slipped down on the draft board because of that) and has the potential to become a very good piece of the Sabres future as a franchise.
Jack’s already got his disc replacement surgery scheduled for next that he’s in the Vegas organization. Good for him. Hopefully he wins a Stanley Cup (along with Robin Lehner in the short term. A player that’s is this talented and had to sit through the wreck he did in Buffalo for six years is deserving of lifting that Cup that living out the dream that every kid that laces up skates imagines for their whole life.
And in the long term, I hope the Sabres could finally find a way to move forward as an organization and find a way to build a team that could win and bring success to this city. The tank/Eichel era is over in Buffalo now. The guy we tanked the franchise for is gone now. What the next era in Sabres hockey becomes is still a mystery but for this team the only way is up!
PS: I wrote 3/4 of this blog yesterday but was way too busy so it’s getting published today. This is a side hobby for me that I make no money off of (honestly probably lose money on the time and effort I put into this blog every god damn day) so fuck it. This was a good blog that I put a lot of effort into, I don’t care that it took me a day and a half to write.