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Eichel stripped of Sabres captaincy, placed on IR with neck injury

Center disagrees with Buffalo on surgery, GM says 'we'll just let it play out' @NHLdotcom

Jack Eichel no longer is captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

General manager Kevyn Adams announced the decision Thursday after Eichel failed his physical at training camp because of a herniated disk in his neck and was placed on injured reserve. Adams said the Sabres will not name a captain this season.

"I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this," Adams said. "From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision. ... There's a lot of voices in there that are strong, that are good pros. So we'll just, instead of rushing into that, we'll just let it play out."

Eichel was named captain Oct. 3, 2018, one year to the day after he signed an eight-year, $80 million contract ($10 million average annual value).

The 24-year-old center has been the subject of trade rumors in part because of a disagreement with the Sabres on how to treat his neck injury, which kept him out the final 33 games last season.

"What I would say was we're open to [a trade]," Adams said. "Like I've said before, with any player, how do we make our organization better? We have a plan. We are going to stick to our plan in the short term, a little bit medium and then longer term we're going to stick to it. ... I'm not going to get into predicting the future. What I can say is, when it's the right time that we have a solution, we're going to make the right decision."

Eichel has expressed interest in an artificial disk replacement surgery, but the Sabres have said their doctors aren't comfortable with a procedure that has not been performed on an NHL player and preferred an approach of rest and rehabilitation.

Adams acknowledged that Eichel does now need neck surgery but said that the sides still disagree on what the procedure should be. He said Eichel has declined a fusion, and the Sabres do not want him to have the disk replacement.

"At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting is the fusion surgery," Adams said. "So we're going to continue to work toward solutions. ... What I can tell you is we have absolute trust in our doctors. They are the medical experts. They've been consistent since Day One. As I mentioned, first and foremost the health of Jack as a person, not the hockey player. Secondly, how do we get through a process where you're hoping to avoid surgery and getting a player back on the ice?

"I give Jack a lot of credit in terms of doing his research and trying to understand different options. But our doctors have been clear from the beginning. If we got to this point, that's where they felt they would be comfortable."

Eichel, who will continue his rehab, recently changed agents and is now represented by Pat Brisson, whose clients include Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares. Eichel was previously represented by Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli.

"I've spoken to his previous agents daily, Pat Brisson daily," Adams said. "There's been a lot of communication. Jack's here for his physical. He made it clear to me that he doesn't want to be a distraction. He doesn't want to take away from what we are trying to build here, so he will continue his rehab, not necessarily in this facility, on a daily basis, but then we'll work toward where we go from here."

Adams was asked if Eichel had played his last game for Buffalo.

"I would probably suggest that everyone in this room and across the hockey world believes a healthy Jack Eichel is a franchise player, and these type of situations don't come up very often where players are moved," he said. "I know there have been a lot of things speculated. We believe there's value on Jack Eichel and we will do what we need to do as an organization to do the best we can moving forward, and that's how we're going to do this."

Coach Don Granato said the Sabres have no choice but to do so until the situation is resolved.

"You're going to get asked about it, every road trip, you're going to get asked about it," Granato said. "How can it not be a distraction when you're going to keep hearing about it? … I can come in here and we'll talk about Jack, and it's appropriate in here to talk about Jack. But when we walk out there (on the ice), there's so much to do that it just doesn't become the distraction.

"... I've watched him do some pretty spectacular things. But again, we're in a situation where he clearly, because of what's going on here, has to just focus on that as well. And I'm excited when he does return to see him, you know, even if we're talking about the captaincy, like he doesn't need that. I can tell you here, he was great. He was a great captain here."

Forward Kyle Okposo agreed the situation involving Eichel will not be a distraction on the ice.

"Nobody is really thinking about it. Everybody is moving forward," he said. "… Everyone just wants to be around each other and everyone wants to play and everybody wants to prove themselves and be better. You could feel that nervous energy in there today. … So there's no distractions anymore."

Forward Zemgus Girgensons joined the Sabres in the 2013-14 season and has been Eichel's teammate since he entered the NHL in 2015-16.

"It's a tough situation," said Girgensons, who missed all of last season after he had hamstring surgery Jan. 6. "I've been friends, teammates with Jack for a long time. It's a tough position. I wish him all the best. I hope he get what he wants. … The focus here is just on us putting in the work in camp."

Selected by Buffalo with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Eichel has scored 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 NHL games. He scored at least 24 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons, including a career-high 36 in 2019-20.

"You know this is an elite franchise player in his prime, under contract, and we need to, as an organization, move forward, but we can't compromise on certain things that we believe," Adams said. "We're going to work at it. Every day we do. We have in the past and we will continue to."

The Sabres (15-34-7) were last in the NHL standings and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a 10th straight season. Buffalo lost 18 straight games (0-15-3) from Feb. 23-March 29, the final 11 without Eichel.

"Jack's one of the best players in the world," Adams said. "And that's why I say having him healthy playing is what we all want. So we'll continue to look at every possibility of how we get there. And then if there's an opportunity to do something that we think's right for a franchise, we'll do it." independent correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report

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