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The Buffalo Sabres are wading through another miserable season and, to add to the pain, their biggest star is apparently not happy once again.
During a radio hit on WGR 550, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman went into great detail on how tumultuous the season has been for the Sabres. Sitting at the bottom of the East Division, Buffalo really has no reason to be hopeful for its year beyond what they can scrap together at the deadline.
In the middle of this doom cloud, rumors that star center Jack Eichel wants a change of scenery are creeping back into every facet of this team once again.
"We talked about how much of a step that Eichel took last year,” said Friedman, “and still when it came to team success, it just didn't really go anywhere. And now you look at where it is this year. You know he's going to be frustrated.
“And there were conversations last year, and what I was told was the Sabres just said ‘we are not ready to do this.’ Teams made offers. It was communicated that he was restless. I don't think he ever asked for a trade. I don't think he ever asked for a trade but he was restless and teams knew it."
Without Eichel, the Sabres would not be even remotely close to competing. The one shining bright light that instills hope into this team’s present and future has simply been let down by management's perpetual inability to attract enough talent to make the Sabres even somewhat competitive with any type of regularity.
Since Buffalo went completely in the tank during the 2014-15 season — knowing they would get either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel as their prize for icing one of the worst teams in league history — it has not gotten any better. They were able to get the one thing every other team dreams of, a player like Eichel, but did not have the foundation laid to build any modicum of success around that pivotal piece.
Significant trades, like acquiring Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets or stealing Ryan O’Rielly from the Colorado Avalanche, were swiftly met with their own departures as the lack of stability grew within the organization. Now on its third general manager and fourth head coach since Eichel’s rookie season, the team is right back in the thick of mediocrity, and that's putting it nicely.
Eventually going down a path of trading draft picks for depth talent like defensemen Colin Miller and Brandon Montour, and forward Jimmy Vesey, the Sabres left themselves a bare cupboard of prospects and just some underperforming regulars to show for it. While the Sabres have certainly won the title of offseason champions for a couple years in a row now — signing Taylor Hall to a one-year deal and acquiring Eric Staal this summer — the team is still lost in direction as Eichel only grows older and closer to losing hope.
All of this has come to a point where fingers are being pointed and no one really knows who to blame while sitting in a pile of fermented dumpster juice. So this team will just keep on changing the supporting cast and the people in charge until they need to make a franchise-altering decision in trading away someone that has already stayed beyond the point where anyone’s loyalty would be dried up.
While Eichel is locked up through the 2025-26 season with a $10-million AAV cap hit, a no-movement clause is set to kick in on July 1, 2022. With that in place, Eichel will have complete control of where he is traded to. If moving Eichel is something the Sabres are going to do, the best time would be in the next 17 months while they have the attention of all other 31 teams and don’t need the player’s approval of the destination.
The Edmonton Oilers have Leon Draisaitl for Connor McDavid to lean on and support during internal franchise instability, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a concrete front office to go with an immense supporting cast for Auston Matthews, while the Buffalo Sabres have brought nothing of value to Eichel. Nothing that should warrant him staying there for the rest of his contract and nothing that should make him excited to play hockey on that team.
Trying short-term bandage fixes like signing Hall and trading for — then unfortunately signing — Jeff Skinner can work sometimes. But with no clear plan and a team that appears to be blindly going into each off-season without any real long-term direction, it makes sense Eichel would not be happy in Buffalo.
With every embarrassing loss, the spotlight gets brighter on this team to make a move and send Eichel somewhere he can launch his reputation into a winning stratosphere. Teams like the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, with cap space and prospect capital burning a hole in their wallets — and a desire to bring in a bonafide top center — would be more than willing to pay the price, one would think.
However, whatever the Sabres get back for Eichel — if they deal him — would not come close to being enough. Considering that this dude has put in All-Star seasons surrounded by some no name wingers and bottom-six talent, no one can fathom what is possible next to the likes of someone like, say, Artemi Panarin.
The rumors are never going to stop until the Sabres win, which judging by how this franchise looks right now seems completely out of the question. Eichel has a desire to win and it's likely going to take a deal for him to get any taste of what that's like anytime soon.
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