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Eichel neck injury rehab agreed upon by doctors, Sabres GM says

Taking 'conservative' approach to getting center healthy

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The Buffalo Sabres have been in constant communication with center Jack Eichel and his representatives about his neck injury, and all the doctors agree on a conservative rehab approach in the hopes of avoiding surgery, general manager Kevyn Adams said Wednesday.

The doctors discussed a 12-week time frame for rehab that runs through the end of May or early June, and Eichel is in that window, Adams said.

"Now, it's been speculated and discussed from Jack's camp about potentially having a surgery that's never been done on a National Hockey League player before," Adams said. "Our doctors aren't comfortable with that.

"But I think we all are in a position where we want the same thing and hope that when we reimage this in the timeline that we laid out, Jack will have made steps and strides to be in a position where we're in a better spot."

Eichel expressed frustration and uncertainty about his future in his postseason media availability Monday, saying he has been upset about the way his injury has been handled, there has been a disconnect between him and the Sabres, and the team holds a lot of cards on what he can and cannot do. He said he would like to have surgery.

Adams said Eichel has not requested a trade and they have been talking continuously throughout the process.

"I do want to drive a point home that's critically important: We all want the same thing here when it comes to Jack Eichel," Adams said while opening his postseason availability with a statement on Eichel. "We want Jack Eichel to be healthy, to be able to play at the top of his game, be one of the best players in the world like he's proven he is."

Eichel's last game this season was March 7 against the New York Islanders.

Adams said team doctors diagnosed a herniated disk in Eichel's neck and discussed the next steps as conservative care and rehab treatment, hoping Eichel would return this season. Adams said Eichel sought a second opinion, and the Sabres supported that.

"Anytime a player in any medical situation wants to get another opinion, I think it's great," Adams said. "The more information, the better, and that's what he did."

Adams said team doctors and Eichel's doctors agreed on the conservative approach.

"Typically, in this situation and in their experience, there's a high probability that through a conservative rehab approach, you are able to avoid surgery and you are able to come back and perform at the top of your game," Adams said.

Eichel scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games this season. The Sabres (15-34-7), who will finish last in the NHL this season with 37 points, missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 10th straight season.

Adams declined to give details about the surgery he said Eichel's camp discussed.

"What I can just tell you is, it's never been performed on an NHL hockey player," Adams said. "And I think you could all appreciate that if it was anyone in any job but certainly a professional athlete, there's going to be hesitation if there's not data to support something like that and a comfort level, and our doctors, like I said, they're not there."

The 24-year-old Buffalo captain has five seasons remaining on an eight-year, $80 million contract ($10 million average annual value) he agreed to Oct. 3, 2017.

"You're talking about a young professional athlete that wants to be healthy and wants to play and wants to win," Adams said. "I don't want to put words in Jack's mouth or why he reacted the way he did on Monday or why there was emotion there, but I'll flip it around on a positive note to say we want players and people in this organization that are passionate, that want to win and that want to be here and are excited to put this jersey on and make this city proud.

"I've talked to you guys about this before. The disconnect in my mind right now is from our team to our fan base and our city and making people of this community proud."

Adams said losing should make players angry, and he was energized and extremely impressed by how honest and mature young players were in their exit interviews.

"We are going to get this right with the people that want to be here," Adams said.

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