Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Casey Cizikas #53 of the New York Islanders celebrates his goal against Jack Eichel #9 and the Buffalo Sabres in the second period at the Nassau Coliseum on March 7, 2021 in Uniondale, New York.

BRUCE BENNETT/Getty Images

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea for then-Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray to bury the brightest prospect in the club’s modern history a couple of hours after landing him.

This was back at the draft lottery in 2015. Buffalo lost the first pick to Edmonton. That meant no Connor McDavid grand prize, but a pretty nice parting gift in Jack Eichel.

Given that the Sabres had just jumped head-first through the standing into an empty swimming pool, it probably would have been best to at least pretend to be excited. Eichel may not have been the guy you wanted, but he was the guy you had. Murray couldn’t manage it.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m disappointed for our fans,” he told reporters. “We came up here with an expectation we’d probably be picking No. 2 and we’re going to deal with it.”

This is like someone getting up at her own wedding and saying, “Reggie’s brother wouldn’t date me. So, you know, I’m dealing with it. Love you, Reg.”

Then Murray complained that the league made him drive all the way to the draft lottery in Toronto to find out he’d lost McDavid, instead of just phoning him with the bad news.

After the man in charge rolled Buffalo’s karmic wheel into a ditch, things never got better. Eichel was as advertised – no McDavid (who is?), but a cornerstone-calibre player. For most teams, that would’ve been a good piece of business.

Not the Sabres. They have taken Eichel’s early golden years and turned them to tin. Now in his sixth season, Eichel has never ended a season on the right side of .500 hockey. He’s never been in an NHL playoff game. He’s never even been close.

This year, Eichel and the Sabres are performing the rarest sort of tank – the one with no plan, no objectives and no bottom.

Rumours that the Sabres were thinking of trading Eichel began floating around the league like so much flotsam from the wreckage in February.

Story continues below advertisement

This would be an instance of trading a future you have a pretty good feeling about for a future that is a complete blank. Eichel is the most desirable type of player in hockey – a big-bodied centre who can take over games. He’s only 24 years old. He is on a (relatively) cheap, long-term deal.

In the hockey dictionary, under “Roster Building Goals,” you’ll find Eichel’s picture. Trading him isn’t changing a losing game. It’s a transparent attempt to change the narrative. It would be admitting you’ve screwed up so badly that you need to start over, even if starting over is untenable.

Unsurprisingly, the rumours dovetailed with a dip in Eichel’s form. It’s funny how if you make a guy feel disposable, that can sometimes be reflected in his job performance. Someone should write a book about it or something.

As Eichel headed south for the winter, so did the rest of the team. Buffalo is 0-8-2 in its past 10 games. Its playoff chances stand at – let me check my algorithmic calculator here – minus-10,000 per cent.

One presumes that if the Sabres don’t win the first-overall pick next year, current GM Kevyn Adams will kick over his desk at lottery HQ, run across the stage and dump ping-pong balls all over the floor while shouting, “Take back. Take back. I call a do-over!” It would be the Sabres way.

Watching Eichel only intermittently this year, you got the feeling that Buffalo had finally broken him. That was before a New York Islander helped break him a little more by running him into the boards. Over the weekend, Buffalo’s forlorn coach, Ralph Krueger, said Eichel will be out “for the foreseeable future” with a neck injury.

Story continues below advertisement

Then Buffalo went out and got blanked by the Penguins on Saturday, giving them a little preview of their Eichel-less future.

It’s got so bad even reporters – who usually love these blood-in-the-water situations – are beginning to feel bad. Krueger is so close to the professional grave, he ought to prop a coffin up behind the bench and stand in it during games.

When someone asked him the other night about how much of a drag this is, his answer was a delicious blend of desperation and cliché: “It continues to be a challenge that I love, in a weird way … we need to dig deep and continue to persevere.”

If this is what “persevering” looks like, I can’t wait to see this team after it’s given up. Maybe the players will hit the ice in jeans and T-shirts and take all the third periods off so they can get a jump on the drive to the airport. It can’t be much worse than what’s currently on display.

Buffalo is in the midst of proving once again that the draft lottery is not a one-size-fits-all fix for bad teams. One or two players can’t solve all your problems. And they especially won’t solve them if you welcome them on board with a verbal backhand in the press.

Eichel hasn’t publicly demanded a trade because hockey players don’t do that. Every once in a while, some independent thinker will buck the system, and then the system will buck the hell out of him (a la Jonathan Drouin).

Story continues below advertisement

But if ever there has been grounds for an amicable NHL divorce, it is Eichel and the Sabres.

Trading him is a terrible idea, but it is at least an idea. As it stands, there is a numb, mindless aspect to the way the Sabres carry themselves, on and off the ice. They lose because that’s what they do. They’d like to stop, but have no clue how to do that.

It’s the rare instance where knee-jerk change makes some sense. If you can’t start the car, try rolling it down a hill and popping the clutch. Sure, you may end up wrapped around a tree. But there is at least a chance you’ll end up going somewhere.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies