For more than three hours, the Sabres analyzed their season. They talked of inconsistencies, squandered chances and the disappointment of another early summer.
The last guy to talk, Jack Eichel, has had enough of the words.
“I think guys want to win,” he said Monday, “but there’s a difference between saying that you want to win and actually wanting to win and putting the work in, dedicating your life to it.”
Too many nights, the Sabres didn’t show a desire to win. Too many days, their dedication was lacking. That’s bad enough, but what bugs Eichel more is they didn’t show a hatred of losing.
Losing ruins Eichel’s mood, changes his demeanor. Buffalo’s franchise player becomes angry on the ice, surly in the dressing room.
He wants teammates to hate losing just as much.
“That’s what a winning culture is,” Eichel said. “Not being satisfied with yourself, not being satisfied with the fact that you’re losing. I think it’s important to realize that you can’t be satisfied with the fact that you’re in the NHL.
“I’m here to win, so it’s pretty frustrating.”
Though Eichel refused to call anyone a passenger, he clearly felt too many Sabres are simply enjoying the ride. The goal shouldn’t be making the NHL. The goal should be succeeding in the NHL.
“I love all those guys,” Eichel said in KeyBank Center. “Enjoy being around them every day, just didn’t do enough to put our team where we wanted to be. As a group, we all need to look in the mirror.”
With that sentence, locker-cleanout day concluded. Maybe it’ll be the start of a long-awaited turnaround.
“You’ve got to find that extra inch or whatever it takes to win,” forward Tyler Ennis said. “We obviously don’t have that right now. We don’t have that mindset. We don’t have that mentality.
“That’s what needs to change in my opinion most is that mentality, that mindset of every day what it takes to be a champ.”
It’s not going to be an easy fix, as the Sabres proved. They entered the season believing they were a playoff team. They exited in last place in the Atlantic Division.
“The frustrating part is knowing that we’re capable of it, but for some reason we’re not giving that effort, we’re not giving that intensity night after night,” right wing Sam Reinhart said. “We’ve got to learn how to do that a high level.”
They’ve also got to learn to do it as a team.
“Not everyone’s buying in every night, and that’s costing us,” center Zemgus Girgensons said. “It takes 20 guys to play the game, and it takes everyone to chip in. If two guys don’t do it, then usually bad things happen.
“The motive moving forward is every single guy in the locker room – coaches, players, staff – buying in and doing things the right way.”
That includes Eichel. Though he led the team in scoring and made strides toward becoming their leader, he joined the Sabres in gliding to the finish. They went 1-5 in the final six games, giving them a 33-37-12 record.
“The last six games I’d definitely like to have back,” he said. “It’s tough to swallow those.”
They were tough on his wallet, too. He had one goal and one assist in the final six, dropping to .93 points per game. That ranked 11th in the NHL, just behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (.94). Had Eichel finished in the top 10, he would have received a $2 million contract bonus, according to CapFriendly.com.
Still, Eichel led Buffalo with 57 points in 61 games, joining Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Pierre Turgeon as the only Sabres to lead the team in points before their 21st birthday. Eichel was second in goals with 24.
“I haven’t scratched the surface of where I can be, but I played pretty good at times,” the 20-year-old said.
He made a concerted effort to become a team leader, though an ankle injury the day before the season put a crimp in his plans. He was out for nearly two months.
“More than anything, to be a leader on a team, to be a leader in any type of sport or business or whatever you’re doing, you have to perform,” Eichel said. “If you’re not performing, then who’s going to follow you?”
His performance on the ice was worth following. His disdain for losing is worth mimicking, too.
“Did we actually care enough to do the things that we need to do take the next step? Obviously, the answer is no,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “This is a business, a business based on winning, and that’s our responsibility as players. That’s what we get to paid to do.
“If we want to take a step in the right direction and get ourselves to the postseason – which is our goal, which is every team’s goal – we’ve got a lot of growing up to do.”