By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It took just five years, but the Sabres’ Jack Eichel seems beaten down by Buffalo’s seemingly neverending struggles.
One of the league’s seven teams officially done for the season should the NHL successfully return to the ice this summer, Buffalo’s postseason drought will hit a staggering nine years, making them just the fifth team in league history to miss the playoffs nine years in a row. And it also means that Eichel, drafted behind Connor McDavid with the No. 2 overall pick in 2015, will remain with a big fat zero in his “career playoff games” column. This despite being one of the most productive players in the league since jumping into the mix as a teenager, with 137 goals (28th-most in the NHL) and 337 points (24th-most in the NHL) in 354 games since 2015.
It’s absolutely brutal, and as his on-the-record honesty confirmed, it’s definitely taking its toll on one of the game’s bright young stars.
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” Eichel admitted in a conference call with the local Buffalo media. “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. I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”
Buffalo, in case you’re unaware, hasn’t even come close to helping Eichel get closer to winning a Cup. In fact, they missed the postseason cutoff by an average of over 21 points through the first four years of Eichel’s career. And even with an expanded playoff format that’ll add an extra four teams to the mix this summer, the Sabres finished three points behind the 12th-seed Canadiens. In a normal year, their 13th-place finish would’ve seen them finish 13 points outside of the second wild card spot in the East.
“Teams are gaining valuable, valuable [playoff] experience as a group,” said Eichel. “And we’re not one of them.”
And Eichel wasn’t the only Sabre offering straight-up depressing quotes about the organizational struggles to right the ship.
“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’s there’s been a winning culture,” Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “Sometimes you ask the question, ‘what is it?’
“I mean, I haven’t seen it before or in Buffalo.”
Again, absolutely brutal.
But quotes like this — especially from Eichel, the captain and face of the franchise — have officially put the Sabres on the clock to do something big. Buffalo’s tried before, of course, with trades for talents such as Ryan O’Reilly (out after just three years and a Cup and Conn Smythe winner in his first year with the Blues) and Jeff Skinner (just 14 goals in 59 games since signing an eight-year, $72 million extension following a 40-goal 2018-19). But nothing’s worked thus far — at least not to the point to give Eichel and Co. a shot at postseason play — and you have the feeling that another did-not-qualify may push Eichel over the edge and lead to him asking for a trade.
At the same time, however, Eichel may have built his own prison here, as he’s set to enter just the third year of an eight-year, $80 million contract signed in 2017 set to keep him in Buffalo through the end of the 2025-26 season.