Forward Jack Eichel said Monday he is relieved the blockbuster trade that sent him from the Buffalo Sabres to the Vegas Golden Knights is behind him and he is looking forward to being on the ice with his new team, even though it may take about three months.
Eichel will have his preferred choice of surgery for his neck injury on Friday and is thankful the Golden Knights have been supportive of the procedure he feuded with the Sabres over, triggering discontent with the organization.
Eichel said he hopes the NHL and NHL Players’ Association will provide players more rights in determining how to treat injuries, while he acknowledged frustration in the delay in being able to get his procedure. He will have his herniated disk artificially replaced, something the Sabres denied because the procedure had never been performed on an NHL player. He lost nearly an entire season due to the stalemate over the treatment.
“I think my situation shined light on maybe some things that could be changed, and I hope that they are in the future,” Eichel said. “I don’t necessarily agree with the team having the full say in what to do with medical treatment. I think it should be a collaboration.”
Eichel is in the fourth season of an eight-year, US$80-million contract. He topped 20 goals in each of his first five seasons and enjoyed a breakout year in 2019-20, when he had a career-best 36 goals in 68 games before the season was abruptly halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Overall, he had 139 goals and 216 assists in 375 career games with Buffalo.
The Golden Knights acquired the 25-year-old Thursday in exchange for forward Alex Tuch, rookie centre Peyton Krebs and two draft picks.
Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon made it clear he was in favor of Eichel having his preferred surgery.
“The decision of the surgery is one that we respectfully defer to Jack and his representatives,” McCrimmon said. “Why wouldn’t his people want what’s best for him?”
Eichel, whose recovery is expected to take about three months, said he has thoroughly researched the procedure and doesn’t believe it makes him an expensive or risky investment for a team looking to make a deep playoff run.
“I think there’s been maybe a narrative created that I was going out and doing something that’s never been done to a hockey player, but this is an FDA-approved surgery that’s been around for a long time,” Eichel said. “My surgeon started doing it in the early 2000s, so he’s been doing it for 20 years. I feel very, very confident in what I’m doing.”
“There’s been other players who have dealt with herniated disks in other ways. But from what I’ve gathered, speaking of them, they really were never given the option. And I feel very fortunate that my second opinion gave me this option to look at maybe a superior surgery. And I just went out and did as much research to learn as much as I could about it. And I feel very, very confident that I’m making the right decision, and everyone else that I’ve spoken to feels very good about it,” he said. “So, you know, I know it’s going to work out and I’m going to be back playing. And I can put this all behind us.”
Eichel also expressed his gratitude for Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner, who had previously played with Eichel in Buffalo and was extremely supportive of him.
“He was shining a light on the situation, and I think him doing that, I really think it did help my situation and I appreciated Robin as someone who speaks up when he believes in something and he stands behind it,” Eichel said. “It meant a lot and it meant a lot to my family. He’s a guy that you definitely want on your side, want behind you. He’ll do anything for you.”
Eichel was speaking with reporters for the first time since arriving in Las Vegas on Sunday amid fanfare at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa, where he was greeted by the organization’s entire entertainment squad, including cheerleaders, the team’s drumline and a pair of mascots.
“As a player, you appreciate that,” Eichel said. “It makes you feel very welcome and makes you feel like you’re wanted. I had seen that some previous guys have been traded here and they’ve done that in the airport. So I thought when I collected my bags, I was clear, but they got me in the hotel.”