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Dec 16, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) skates with the puck during the first period against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Another non-competitive year in Buffalo — and this time with a neck injury that ended his season and created some serious friction between the sides — has seemingly pushed Jack Eichel over the edge with the Buffalo Sabres.

“There’s been a bit of a disconnect from the organization a bit and myself. It’s been tough at times,” Eichel said in his final media availability of the season Monday. “Right now, for me, the most important thing is just trying to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

First of all, probably never a good thing when there’s disconnect between the team captain and the team. Or when the team captain ends the answer with “be available to play hockey next year wherever that may be.”

That alone is enough to make you think that Eichel is as good as gone this offseason and will in fact demand a trade out of Buffalo.

But the handling of this neck injury may be been the true tipping point for the 24-year-old star. Far from the first and only injury of his nightmare 2021 season, it would appear that Eichel wanted to undergo surgery for the herniated disc in his neck, but was rebuffed by Sabres management and/or doctors.

“It doesn’t work like that,” Eichel said. “I wish. I’m under contract with this team, and they hold a lot of cards on what I can and can’t do.”

The ‘I wish’ is pretty telling. In other words, Eichel clearly thinks that his injury was mishandled in brutal fashion, and doesn’t trust what the Sabres are doing or recommending he do to get himself right for the future.

That’s more than enough to give Eichel, who is under contract through 2025-26 at a whopping $10 million per season, pause when it comes to his Buffalo future.

“Listen, my No. 1 interest is Jack Eichel, you know what I mean?” Eichel offered. You gotta look after yourself. You gotta look after what’s best for yourself. The organization has a similar job to do, which is to look out for what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s tough. Things haven’t been, I guess, really black and white. We’re all trying to educate ourselves in this situation and what would be best moving forward.

“There’s been some tough conversations. But I have to do what’s best for me. I’m only going to play hockey for so long. I’m 24 years old. Hopefully I have many more good years in this amazing game left. But I have to take care of myself. It’s been tough at times. But I’ll come out on the other end of it.”

One year after he declared that he was ‘fed up and frustrated’ with the Sabres’ losing ways, the Sabres remain a complete mess with little hope that things are going to truly change. Many thought that would’ve been the case in 2021 following a busy offseason, but it instead ended with Eric Staal in Montreal and Taylor Hall in Boston.

And speaking Monday, Eichel wouldn’t outright admit that he’s requested a trade out of Buffalo, but noted that he was a ‘lot of thinking’ to do this offseason when it comes to his playing future.

“There’s a lot I have to consider,” Eichel said. “For now, I’m here [and] I’m the captain of this hockey team. My goal is to be available and to try to help this organization to win hockey games. I’ll do that as long as I’m here.”

But at this point, it feels fairly obvious that Eichel wants to be anywhere but Buffalo.

(The Bruins, in case you’re wondering, have a projected $31 million in cap space this offseason.)

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson