Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel shot down a report saying that he had “no desire to sign a contract extension” if Dan Bylsma remained coach of the team.
The initial news came Wednesday from Paul Hamilton of WGR-AM 550 in Buffalo. Eichel then spoke with The Buffalo News to say he wanted to remain with the Sabres no matter who was behind the bench.
“I want to be here for a long time. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t want anybody to think that I want to be somewhere else. I want to be here, and I want to help this team win in any way that I can do that. I just want all the people there to know that,” Eichel said. “I definitely am not the type of guy to point the finger and blame other people. I said in my exit interview and I’ll say it again, it’s self-reflection. You’ve got to look yourself in the mirror before you can call out other guys. I said it all year, if you want to be a leader and be vocal, you’ve got to play well yourself. For me, I don’t think I was good enough this year, so I need to be better. The onus is on me.”
Eichel seemed upset down the stretch as the Sabres missed the playoffs in his second year with the organization. The Boston native was picked with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft and saw other recent high choices, like Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, make the postseason this year.
His anger over Buffalo’s lack of success led to some questions on whether he was ticked at the organization and at Sabres locker cleanout day, Eichel lashed out at the Buffalo’s losing attitude. He also reiterated this in his Wednesday interview with The News, but noted others felt the same way.
The 20-year-old Eichel can sign a long-term extension as soon as this summer but it would kick in until the start of the 2018-19 season. Eichel barely missed out on a contract bonus that would have paid him an extra $2 million this season.
“Just some change in terms of our overall culture and wanting to instill more of that winning atmosphere. As management and coaches, they were saying that they need to expect more out of us as players. I think what maybe got a little bit misunderstood was I don’t think anybody said they want anybody to leave, but there was definitely changes that everybody had brought forward,” Eichel said. “I’m not the only guy. Speaking with other guys, everybody wanted change. In order to do that, you’ve got to voice your opinion to the coach and to the GM, and I think we did a good job of that as a group. You have more of a grasp of what we think as an organization we need to do to put ourselves in a better position at the end of the year. I think that was said. The message got across. I don’t think there was any pointing the finger or anything. I think we came together as a collective and said what we think we need to change to be better. I think that’s where we left it.
“(General manager) Tim (Murray) had voiced his opinions of what he thinks he needs to do, and I said the same thing with mine. I know that Dan did the same thing. As a coach, he said he needs to be better. As a player, I said I need to be better. The same for Tim.”
Eichel also didn’t know where people got the information that he wanted out of Buffalo if Bylsma stayed on as coach.
“Yeah, it’s tough. It’s try and get a grasp on it, then it spreads like wildfire. As soon as one person writes it, another person reads it and it really hits the fan,” Eichel said. “Like I said, it’s frustrating more than anything that I think the wrong message is being put out about me and about our organization and team.”
Eichel noted that he should have “shown some better body language” at the team’s locker cleanout day. If he had, then maybe there wouldn’t have been speculation surrounding his future with the Sabres.
“It’s just so fresh in your mind. Mentally, it’s quite frustrating, and it’s quite frustrating for all of us on the team. If I showed that frustration a little bit more than other guys in my end-of-the-year meeting, then that’s how I am,” Eichel said. “I think my agent said that I wear it on my sleeve, and I do to a point. I’m an emotional guy. When you want to succeed and you want to do well and that doesn’t work out for you, it definitely takes a toll.
Earlier Wednesday, Eichel’s agent Peter Fish also spoke to The Buffalo News and called the WGR-AM 550 report “ridiculous.”
“I think a lot of these reports are based off just speculation by looking at Jack in a press conference, which is ridiculous,” Fish said. “He’s a 20-year-old kid. I’ve read some of these things and I’m sick to my stomach, quite frankly.”
This past season, Eichel set a career-high with 57 points in 61 games. He missed 21 games after suffering a high ankle sprain right before the start of the year.
The previous season as a rookie he had 56 points in 81 games. After Buffalo landed free agent Kyle Okposo in the 2016 it appeared the Sabres had a legit chance to make a run at the playoffs. Instead, they had 78 points – three fewer than their total the previous season. Murray is set to meet with Buffalo owner Terry Pegula this week to go over the state of the organization.
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