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Eichel Saga Ends

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

After a contentious 8 months, the Jack Eichel saga has finally ended. Eichel, along with a 2022 3rd-round pick, are headed to the Vegas Golden Knights, in exchange for Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 1st-round pick and a 2023 2nd-round pick. [All picks conditional]

Nobody in Buffalo envisioned it ending this way. When Eichel was drafted 2nd overall in 2015 it was set out to be a fairytale ending on the steps of Buffalo City Hall, with Jack Eichel raising the Stanley Cup over his head.

Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres franchise in 2013, with a vision of winning the Stanley Cup. Pegula saw Eichel the same way fans did, as a US-born savior of the team. Pegula believed that as long as they had their cornerstone player, the organization would be OK.

That wasn't reality. The Sabres have struggled for a decade to build a competent hockey team. Their last trip to the playoffs was in 2010-11, and they have the longest active playoff drought in the NHL. If they miss the playoffs this season (almost assuredly), they'll set the record for the longest postseason drought in NHL history at 11 seasons.

The Sabres' lack of winning grew frustrating on Eichel, who performed as one of the top players in the NHL during his years in Buffalo. At the end of the 2019-2020 season that came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sabres missed a 24-team playoff, finishing 25th in the league. The club showed signs of regression, rather than being a team on the rise.

It was at that point that Eichel went to the team and said that if the plan was to not win now, he felt it'd be best to move on. Eichel didn't admit this until after he was traded in an interview with Elliott Friedman of Sportsnet on Thursday, November 4th.

The Pegulas took the trade request very personally, which would affect the rest of the Eichel-Sabres relationship.

Eichel sustained a herniated disk in his neck in March, which ended his 2020-21 season. At the time, there were questions among Sabres fans as to whether it was last game as a Sabre, but no one expected how messy the situation was about to get.

The Sabres medical team suggested that Eichel have an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) while Eichel preferred an Artificial Disk Replacement (ADR). The Sabres medical team was concerned that no NHL player had ever had an ADR. But after doing much of his own research, Eichel was adamant about getting an ADR. Eichel said in an exclusive interview with Spittin Chiclets that if the Sabres would have allowed him to get an ADR, he would've returned to play in Buffalo.

Eichel was stripped of the captaincy on the first day of training camp, making it clear that General Manager Kevyn Adams planned on trading him.

The trade was completed in the morning of November 4th, after several periods where it was reported the deal was at the “one-yard line”.

Eichel says all good things about Buffalo and the fans, but there's clearly some bad blood between him and the Pegulas. When brought up on his feelings about ownership on Spittin Chiclets, he didn’t answer the question.

This situation will bring up questions in the next CBA. How was Eichel not able to choose his surgery? Why does the current CBA give all leverage to owners and teams? Much of this falls on NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, as well as the NHLPA.

It should come as no surprise that Vegas was in the mix throughout and ended up making the deal. Since their inception and Stanley Cup Final season in 2017-18, they’ve been massive players on the trading block, under strong leadership of President of Hockey Operations George McPhee and GM Kelly McCrimmon in acquiring former Ottawa Senator and now Vegas captain Mark Stone, and Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty, who are projected to play on the top line with Eichel at center. This season for Vegas is Stanley Cup or bust, although they are off to a slow start filled with injuries (plus Eichel). No panic though for Golden Knights fans, as former Sabres have a good track record on new teams. Former Sabre Ryan O’Reilly won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2018-19 in his first season with the St. Louis Blues.

Jack Eichel will have his ADR surgery on Friday, November 12th at Rocky Mountain Spine Clinic in Denver by Dr. Chad Prusmack (credit @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter). The recovery timeline is about 3 months. Now, the question becomes whether Eichel will be ready for the Beijing Olympic Games in February.