The 2020-21 campaign of the NHL is well and truly over, and it ended with defending champions of the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning, taking home the trophy for a second consecutive year. The first team to do so since the Pittsburgh Penguins managed the feat in 2016 and 2017. But as soon as one season is over, eyes are already looking toward the next one.
As it stands, franchises are still on a break right now, but NHL training camps are due to get underway within a month. Which does mean that currently, it’s a bit of a quiet period in the NHL world in terms of news. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some drama going down off the rink right now.
One of the hottest topics on people’s radars at the moment is the fallout between the Buffalo Sabres and their captain, Jack Eichel.
Where it all started
This is an issue that goes all the way back to earlier in the year, when Eichel picked up an injury that kept him out of the team for the final two months of the season. It was announced by general manager Kevyn Adams that the medical team had recommended Eichel should have artificial disk replacement surgery.
Now, this is an operation never performed on an NHL player before. But with medical advancements all the time, there are always going to be newer, less risky, and more beneficial procedures coming out all the time. So there will always be first time surgeries for NHL players.
The issue arose when Eichel’s agents, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, contradicted what Adams had told the press just days before. They stated that the Sabres in fact did not follow the advice of the medical team, which caused some serious confusion for fans, as no one really knew what was going on. And then to top it off, Eichel’s agents also added fuel to the fire by stating they anticipated that the player would be traded before the new season.
And to follow that, despite them saying the Sabres were going against their own medical team’s advice, they stated he would be fit and ready for the upcoming regular season should the surgery go ahead. Making it seem like either the player, or at least his agents, were trying to force a move for a player who is currently the star of the Sabres team, and is on a contract worth $80 million with five years left before the deal expires.
At the time, the Sabres did not comment on what Eichel’s agents had come out and said. But Adams had stated that, “if there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that we feel will help us improve… we’d be open to it”. Before continuing that they are “not in a position where we feel that we’re just going to do something to do it. That just doesn’t make any sense”.
Adams also stated there was no need to complete a trade for the player, who is their best on the team by far, as well as their captain, because he still had 5 years remaining on his 8 year contract. And whilst he is a great player for the Sabres, he has yet to really win anything, although NHL odds for the Sabres winning something have improved since Eichel joined the team.
Where we’re at now
Well, Eichel is still a Sabres player, although it appears that he and the Sabres have come to an impasse. Whether it was he or his agents who tried to force a trade, only they will know, but one sign that suggests it may have been Fish and Donatelli is the fact that Eichel has actually changed agents. But not before he and his agents had a meeting with the Sabres, the NHL, NHLPA, and some medical experts.
However, despite everyone getting involved to see what the issues were, and if any resolution could be found, the meeting ended in a stalemate. Neither side would budge on their claims, and it seemed that the player would not be traded.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman discussed the matter on the latest episode of the 31 Thoughts Podcast, stating “there was a big meeting in Buffalo… And basically what I heard was there was no resolution. As a matter of fact, I heard everybody was still pretty dug in. Which confirmed the rumours that were circulating around news outlets about the current state of the situation.
And following the breakdown in that meeting, Eichel changed agents, from Fish and Donatelli, to Pat Brisson of Creative Artists Agency. So it would suggest that maybe his former agents were part of the problem, and they may have been one of the reasons why little to no progress has been made. But with damage already done, and Eichel’s reputation diminished somewhat, it is unknown what Brisson will be able to do differently to get an outcome that leads to everyone being satisfied.
The main issue is, the longer that this is dragged out for, and any medical solutions are delayed whilst plans are discussed, it means Eichel will be out for even longer. And as it stands, it is very unlikely that he will make the start of the regular season, unless someone comes to an agreement very soon. And even then it would be pushing it close to the limit.