Eichel Vs. The Sabres: the saga continues
By: Addison S
If you’ve been following hockey drama for the past two years, I’m sure you are well aware of Jack Eichel’s tumultuous relationship with the Buffalo Sabres, the team that drafted him second overall in 2015. If you’re not aware, that’s honestly understandable because I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who truly cares about the Buffalo Sabres. I mean, if I’m a New Yorker, no matter what part of the state I’m from, no shot I’d choose Buffalo as the team I live, breathe, and die for over either of the other two teams experiencing much greater commercial success. But I digress.
Eichel’s troubles with his ramshackle draft organization stem mostly from a pain in the neck. Eichel suffered a cervical disc herniation in March 2021. Eichel, upon seeking independent counsel, wanted to handle this via artificial disc replacement surgery; a procedure in which a prosthetic disc acts as the natural joint, allowing for the possibility of having the same mobility as before the injury. The Sabres on the other hand, being more old fashioned, opted that Eichel receive the more traditional spinal fusion; a surgery that prevents movement of the disc in the spine by fusing vertebrae together, ensuring that Eichel’s play would never be the same. Both procedures come with high rates of success and low rates of complications, but the deciding factor for the organization was that this surgery had yet to be performed on an NHL player. The disagreement escalated to a standoff, resulting in Eichel being stripped of his captaincy for refusing to comply, and a subsequent trade to Vegas on November 4th, 2021. The Golden Knights granted the diamond in the rough permission to go under the knife the same week as the trade was done. Eichel’s procedure took place on November 12th. He was back on the ice less than a month later.
The saga continued this past Thursday night when Eichel made his first return to Buffalo, where VGK (32-23-4) dropped the ball, losing 3-1 to the Sabres (19-32-8) in a passionate duel. Buffalo fans were as loud as ever, even taking the extra energy to boo Eichel in an expression of hatred toward player medical autonomy. Because why should NHL players have a say over the major surgeries they undergo? They shouldn’t. Or at least in Buffalo, they shouldn’t.
In a post game interview upon being asked about the crowd, Eichel commented: “That’s the loudest I’ve ever heard the place, ever. It only took seven years and me leaving for them to get into the game.” In response, angry Buffalo fans littered NHL social media comment sections with truly insightful statements like “Ok go snort coke Jack” and “what a baby”. Not to mention, my personal favorite, “This is why I will never hate Tavares. All class always. This dude isn’t.” Right, because Islanders fans totally didn’t burn their Tavares jerseys and shit on him for his Maple Leaf pajamas when that all went down. Anyways…
While Buffalo fans continue to spew that their former franchise player’s departure is what caused people in that sad city to like hockey again, I think this would be a good time to remind them that it took Eichel’s RETURN to boost fan attendance. Not the other way around. Why the Buffalo fanbase chooses to place their blame for this shitshow on Eichel as opposed to the organization is truly beyond me, but it’s safe to say that anyone insistent on trashing an injured athlete for wanting to make the best decision for his recovery is a certifiable asshole. There are a lot of those in Buffalo, clearly.
In a laughable turn of events, Buffalo reporters continue to bring up Eichel’s stats for the 2021-2022 season in an effort to delude themselves and their fan base into thinking the Sabres organization didn’t seriously screw up here. Eichel has only 7 points this season, with 3 goals and 4 assists. Which, at a glance, seems pretty bad. But when you take into account that Eichel made his Vegas debut less than a month ago…on February 17th…after having major back surgery…the former all star isn’t looking too shabby. Although poor Jack spent the first seven years of his career wallowing in misery and frustration as he tried to captain one of the consistently worse teams in the league, his future is looking very bright. Moreover, one loss to a team completely fueled by their anger toward his non compliance, isn’t something I’d particularly worried about. Sorry Buffalo fans! I have a feeling things are going to be very different for you the next time you face the man you used to champion as the face of your depressing organization. Word of advice: maybe don’t treat your star players like trash. Perhaps in that case you wouldn’t be the fourth shittiest team in the league right now. But I don’t know, that’s just me.