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Eichel uncertain about his Sabres future after 'disconnect' over injury

Center says he's upset with Buffalo regarding how to treat neck issue, frustrated with season

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

Jack Eichel expressed frustration and uncertainty about his future with the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in the aftermath of a season that was disappointing on an individual and team basis. 

The center said he was bothered that he and the Sabres had differing views on how to best treat a herniated disk in his neck, which kept him out of the lineup since March 7.

"I would say I've been a bit upset about the way that things have been handled since I've been hurt," Eichel said two days after the Sabres concluded their season. "I'd be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. So yeah, I think that there's been a bit of a disconnect from the organization a bit and myself. It's been tough at times.

"But right now, for me, I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be."

Eichel, who missed the final 33 games this season, said he would like to have surgery but indicated he and the Sabres are not on the same page. 

"They definitely hold a lot of cards on what I can and can't do," he said

Asked directly if he has requested a trade, Eichel, the Sabres captain, did not answer. 

"Did we have a hard year? Yeah, we did," he said. "I think when that happens it forces everyone to just consider what I guess you could do better, what you think maybe the future holds. I think I have a lot of thinking to do in this offseason. I think that there's a lot that I have to consider. But for now, obviously, I'm here. I'm the captain of this hockey team.

"My goal is to be available and to try and help the guys in this room and help this organization win hockey games. I'll continue to do that as long as I'm here."

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams is expected to meet the media Wednesday. He previously addressed Eichel's injury April 15 and said at that time that he had a group conversation with doctors, Eichel and his agents to "make sure we were all on the same page" and discuss what steps to take moving forward.

"The next steps were to shut Jack down for this season, continue to do his rehab and then we will re-examine him early in May and see where we are then and the appropriate next steps will again happen," Adams said.

"I think the key here is that we all want the same thing for Jack and Jack included, we all want him to be back on the ice 100 percent healthy and we all feel that that will happen at the start of training camp next year."

Eichel said long-term health is his primary concern.

"My No. 1 interest and my No. 1 goal is Jack Eichel," he said. "You've got to look after yourself. You've got to look after what you think is best for yourself. The organization has a similar job to do, but it's to look after what is best for the Buffalo Sabres.

"I've got to do what is best for me. I'm only going to play hockey for so long. I'm 24 years old. Hopefully I have many more years in this amazing game left, but I've got to take care of myself."

Eichel has five seasons remaining on an eight-year, $80 million contract he agreed to Oct. 3, 2017. In six seasons with Buffalo, Eichel has scored 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 games. He scored an NHL career-high 36 goals in 68 games last season and 82 points (28 goals, 54 assists) in 2018-19.

The Sabres (15-34-7) will finish last in the NHL this season. They have not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2010-11. Eichel, who was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, is still waiting to make his playoff debut. 

Eichel said he was disappointed in his production this season, when he scored 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) in 21 games for the Sabres, who are tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for 28th in the NHL averaging 2.39 goals per game. He admitted that he might need to "reestablish myself after a tough 12 months." 

Along with the neck injury, Eichel also missed the start of training camp after fracturing the tip of his rib shooting a few weeks before camp opened. 

"When I was in the lineup, I definitely didn't contribute and play as well as I needed to play, as well as this team needed me to play," Eichel said. "That's just the hard truth. That's what it comes down to: I was not good enough. I can look myself in the mirror and say, you weren't good enough this year.

"I've just got to be better. I've got to be a better hockey player. That's what it comes down to."

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