Jack Eichel is one of the best hockey players in the world. At just 23-years-old he has scored 337 points in 354 NHL games. The former second-overall-pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has played five seasons in the NHL, all with the Buffalo Sabres. Eichel is the captain of the team and their franchise player.
Buffalo has failed to make the playoffs since Eichel arrived in 2015. The team’s last playoff appearance was in the 2010-2011 season where they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Buffalo has selected in the top-eight in every single draft since 2013. They have selected Rasmus Ristolainen (8th in 2013), Sam Reinhart (2nd in 2014), Alexander Nylander (8th in 2016), Casey Mittelstadt (8th in 2017), Rasmus Dahlin (1st in 2018) Dylan Cozens (7th in 2019) and of course, Jack Eichel (2nd in 2015). Despite accumulating all of these top picks, the team hasn’t performed well.
The NHL regular season has recently been deemed completed after the league decided to forgo the remaining regular season games and move on to a 24-team NHL playoff (season was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic).
Only seven teams missed out on a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup this season and Buffalo was one of them.
Not making the playoffs for a fifth straight year has made Eichel speak out on his frustrations with the Sabres organization.
"Listen, I'm fed up with the losing and I'm fed up and I'm frustrated,” said Eichel during a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. You know, it's definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It's been a tough couple of months. It's been a tough five years with where things have [gone].”
Eichel wasn’t the only Sabre to voice his frustrations with the team’s lack of success. Another former first-round pick voiced his discontent with the team on Thursday.
“If I think [about] my whole career in Buffalo and before I came to Buffalo, I'm not sure if I've ever been [part of] a team where there's been a winning culture," said Rasmus Ristolainen during a press-conference. “Sometimes you ask the question, what is it? I mean, I haven't seen it before or in Buffalo.”
The question for Buffalo now is, what can we do to keep Jack Eichel happy?
When you have a franchise player like Eichel on your team, you need to acquire complementary pieces that will make the team stronger.
Buffalo lucked out better than most NHL franchises when they were awarded not one but two franchise changing players with Eichel in 2015 and Rasmus Dahlin in 2018. The team drafted a number one centre and a number one defenceman, which are both hard to come by in today’s NHL. Yet, Buffalo hasn’t improved while other teams in their division keep getting stronger.
Eichel is definitely not happy missing the playoffs again when other generational players his age are continuing to make the postseason. Connor McDavid was taken first-overall in the same draft as Eichel. McDavid has already made the playoffs once before in his five-year career and will be making another appearance with the Oilers being one of the 24 teams involved in the 2020 NHL Playoffs.
Buffalo’s division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs have their own franchise centre from the United States. 22-year-old Auston Matthews has made the playoffs all four years he has been in the league. Eichel and McDavid are two players that Eichel is constantly compared to and when both players are getting chances to win a Stanley Cup, it is understandable why Eichel is 'fed up'.
Eichel has wasted no time in preparing for the 2020-2021 NHL season despite his anger towards missing out on the playoffs.
“I’ve already started preparing for next season now,” said Eichel. “I’m already back on the ice, I’m already training, I’m already doing things to try and better myself further for the start of next season whenever that is.”
Eichel is still under contract with Buffalo until the 2025-2026 season, but can Eichel put up with a subpar Sabres team for much longer?
“I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going and I think we took a step this year,” said Eichel. “I will say it’s been a pleasure working with Ralph [Krueger]. He does so much for our group every day and there are tough times and he does an amazing job of bringing us back in and narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be. “But I’m definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit’s went and it’s definitely worn on me.”
Other organizations have made efforts to acquire players that will complement their stars, like Edmonton who picked up Andres Athanasiou, Markus Granlund, Mike Green and James Neal this season.
Buffalo has had other very talented players on their team but they couldn’t stick in town. Evander Kane made his way to San Jose a few seasons ago and Ryan O'Reilly ended up playing a huge role in the St.Louis Blues Stanley Cup run last year.
When multiple star caliber players force their way out of town and now your franchise player publicly voices his frustrations, Sabres fans have to wonder what is going on behind the scenes in the organization.
Eichel will be sticking around in Buffalo for the foreseeable future, but if this team can’t get over the hump and reach the playoffs, will Jack Eichel be the next player to force his way out of Buffalo?