Jack Eichel is riding an emotional roller coaster.
As he said goodbye to Buffalo last week, Eichel couldn’t hide the frustration of a losing season. It was evident in his expressions, words and mannerisms.
Eichel was in a much better mood when he returned home to Boston. The Sabres center felt he had good exit interviews with General Manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. He excitedly believed a few tweaks would get the Sabres to the playoffs.
Eichel’s mood has turned sullen again. There has been harsh criticism during the last week of the 20-year-old’s attitude and demeanor. It hit another level Wednesday when a report surfaced that Eichel wouldn’t sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remained the coach.
Eichel’s agent has had enough.
“I don’t know where anyone is getting these reports, but they are ridiculous in a word,” Peter Fish told The Buffalo News by phone. “I think a lot of these reports are based off just speculation by looking at Jack in a press conference, which is ridiculous. He’s a 20-year-old kid. I’ve read some of these things and I’m sick to my stomach, quite frankly.
“I just think this whole situation is very misunderstood. I know he’s hurt by it. This is not what he believes or has said or anything.”
Eichel also denied the report.
"A lot of things have been written today about me and about things that are not true, to be honest with you," Eichel told The News by phone. "I was a little bit bombarded this morning with a lot of articles that I think are pretty inaccurate. I’m just reading things in the last few days that are a little bit out of whack and not true."
Fish said no coaching ultimatum has been placed on contract talks. Eichel has one year remaining on his entry-level deal before becoming a restricted free agent, and the Sabres can offer him an extension July 1.
“We hope to be having talks with Tim Murray when the time is right here,” Fish said.
Eichel wants to stay.
"I want to be a Sabre and I want to be a Sabre for a long time, and I want to be a part of Buffalo when we win," he said. "I know it’s an organization that is capable of doing that, and I want to be a part of it and I want to be a centerpiece of it.
"I don’t want to go anywhere else. I don’t want anybody to think that I want to be somewhere else.
The immediate talks for Fish center on the perception of Buffalo’s star player.
“He’s a 20-year-old kid who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders,” Fish said. “He wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo. He wants to produce. He wants to do all these things. He wants to help his teammates get better, and Jack himself get better.
“He wants to do all these things and, yeah, at the end of the year, they didn’t make the playoffs. So in his press conference he was frustrated. I don’t blame him. I’m frustrated for him.”
Eichel’s disdain for losing has been well-documented. Fish said that’s the reason for his client’s dour appearance as the Sabres cleaned out their lockers.
“His frustration level, absolutely off the charts,” Fish said. “He’s a competitive kid. He hates to lose. I don’t know if people know that about him. He does not like to lose. Sometimes his frustration in a game, he’s not happy they’re not winning. That’s just the bottom line.
“Jack, he left Buffalo, he thought he had a real good meeting with coach Bylsma and a real good meeting with Murray. When he got home to Boston, he was genuinely excited with the thoughts that maybe they’re just a few players away from getting into the playoffs.”
The Sabres missed the playoffs for the six straight season for multiple reasons. One was players failing to buy into Bylsma’s system. Numerous players believed the team should be playing a more aggressive style that suited their offensive talent. Eichel is thought to be near the top of the list.
Paul Hamilton of WGR-AM 550 reported Wednesday morning that Eichel had “no desire” to talk contract extension with the Sabres if Bylsma stayed behind the bench. Eichel says and he Bylsma ended the season on a good note.
"We go through our meeting, and I thought things went pretty well," Eichel said. "By the end of it, I thought we were on the same page.
"I told him some things that I think as a group we can all improve on. He was very receptive. I don’t think what’s being said about the way things ended is accurate in any way."
Despite missing the opening 21 games with an ankle sprain, Eichel led the Sabres in points. He had 24 goals, 33 assists and 57 points in 61 games, and he will continue playing this spring for USA Hockey at the world championships.
However, it didn’t go unnoticed that he didn’t react well to losing. That included angry looks from his locker stall and long glides to the bench during line changes.
It led to the criticism that peaked following Wednesday’s report.
“I was a 20-year-old at Boston University,” Fish said. “If I had even half of Jack’s maturity at the same time, I would have been a much better person. It’s unbelievable how he handles kids, for example, going to the cancer hospital.
“Whenever he’s out, people always come up, ‘Jack this, Jack that.’ It’s constant, and Jack’s always there for the kids. I always judge a person’s character by how they treat kids, and Jack is off the charts.
“Like I said before, he’d like nothing better than to bring the Stanley Cup to Buffalo because it’s a great city. They’re a passionate fan base. A lot of fans are a lot like Jack in the way he grew up in his family.
“So I just don’t know where this is coming from, and quite frankly it’s someone who’s got an ax to grind for some reason who doesn’t know him and doesn’t understand him.”