For months now, there has been an expectation that the Sabres and Jack Eichel would be parting ways.
The center was shut down in early March due to neck issues, with the two sides disagreeing on the best course of action. Eichel’s camp wanted an artificial disk replacement which is something that hasn’t been done on an NHL player, a request Buffalo’s doctors balked at. Instead, they recommended a 12-week conservative treatment. That has come and gone and the issue hasn’t gone away.
There hasn’t been any progress made in terms of a new plan to fix the problem while Eichel remains with the Sabres. Late Friday, his agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli released the following statement to various reporters and outlets including Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News:
"The process is not working. As previously stated, we fully anticipated a trade by the start of the NHL free agency period. After the agreed upon and prescribed period for conservative rehabilitation lapsed in early June 2021, it was determined by the Sabres medical staff that a surgical procedure was required. The recommendation by Jack’s independent neurosurgeon, other spine specialists consulted, and the surgery Jack feels most comfortable having in order to correct a herniated disk in his neck is to proceed with artificial disk replacement surgery. A further point of concern is that our camp was initially under the impression that the Sabres specialist was in agreement with the artificial disk replacement surgery until that was no longer the case.
"What is being left out of the discussion is that Jack would be able to play in the NHL for the start of the season pending medical clearance if he were allowed to have the surgery he desires even as of this date. Repeated requests have been made to the Sabres since early June to no avail. This process is stopping Jack from playing in the NHL and it is not working."
While this was clearly done to try to expedite the trade process along, the claim that Buffalo’s staff is in agreement that surgery is needed is also noteworthy even if there remains a disagreement on what that procedure needs to be. While Sabres GM Kevyn Adams is right to put a high price tag on his franchise forward, the fact that surgery is needed should, in theory, help to get a move done. If the process continues to drag out, he could miss time next season which is a scenario that’s not ideal for any side.
For his part, Adams has been firm in his assertion that they’re in any rush to get things done, telling reporters that in a press conference on the opening day of free agency (video link):
"I think what’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process, we have a player under contract, we don’t feel any pressure. If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that we feel is going to help us improve, whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road – those are all the things we weigh – we’d be open to it."
Eichel has five years remaining on his contract with a $10M AAV and the perceived pressure point is next summer when his no-move clause kicks in. However, this disagreement over how to deal with his neck injury has seemingly escalated that timeline. At this point, it feels like a matter of when a deal gets done. Eichel’s agents believe the wait has already been too long.