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Mike Harrington: As weird saga unfolds, Sabres go on offense against Jack Eichel

Mike Harrington: As weird saga unfolds, Sabres go on offense against Jack Eichel

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Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel skates against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at KeyBank Center on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. 

Take that, Jack.

Pretty simple summary really. If you want to cut through all the give and take of Kevyn Adams' 42-minute end-of-season media session on Wednesday, that's what I kept circling back to.

Jack Eichel and his camp have made some gross miscalculations this week and the Sabres, believe it or not, have a much bigger leg to stand on. Taking the side of the team is not the norm in these kinds of situations. You only need to think back to how grievously Darcy Regier handled Teppo Numminen's heart situation by suspending him more than a decade ago  by the book correct but nonetheless pretty, um, heartless  to realize that the teams are cold and calculating in these spots most of the time.

But players have obligations in their contracts, too. And the first one is not to go rogue. That's where Eichel lands in all this. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday that Eichel wants to have an experimental surgery to repair the herniated disc with an artificial one. The Sabres are pushing back and understandably so: Adams said Wednesday that, to the team's knowledge, it's never been done on an NHL player.

Friedman cited the surgery being used on a couple of MMA fighters, which hardly qualifies it for use in the NHL or, for that matter, any of the four North American pro sports leagues.

Said Adams bluntly: "Our doctors aren't comfortable with that."

Nor should be Terry and Kim Pegula, Adams or anyone else associated with the Sabres. Eichel's eight-year, $80 million contract requires him to go through the team physicians like any other player. He can get second opinions, which is what he did in March when he went to Colorado to get the neck examined. The Sabres' doctors prescribed a 12-week dose of rest and rehab for the neck, a period that doesn't end until early June. Interestingly, Adams said Eichel's second opinion group said the same thing.

A 24-year-old can't know it all in these spots. Eichel claimed Monday he did a lot of research. Given the latest information, it comes off like he just learned how to use Google and WebMD.

"I would make sure that I was listening to the doctors, because whether I was a player or in my current role, I don't read MRIs," Adams said. "I listen to the experts and I think that's very important for everyone to understand that these are highly regarded medical professionals that all agree on the same thing: That conservative care is the proper step of where we needed to go."

Now, perhaps one of the problems here is Eichel doesn't trust the Sabres' medical team. He wouldn't be the first. There's been a lot of weirdness going on in recent seasons in that area without much explanation. You can't do anything about Kyle Okposo's smashed cheekbone in the wake of an absurd Matt Irwin dump-in or the mangling of Jake McCabe's ACL in a collision in the corner in New Jersey.

But Eichel breaks a rib shooting a puck in HarborCenter weeks before camp? Zemgus Girgensons rips a hamstring in a camp scrimmage and misses the entire season? What is with all the high ankle sprains this team has had over the years? Eichel has had two himself and there's been an epidemic of them over the years with Sabres goalies.

Has it ever struck you as odd all the injuries Zach Bogosian had here and how he played basically injury free in Tampa Bay and Toronto until a couple of weeks ago? I wonder about all the "setbacks" players have here in rehab. Carter Hutton was just the latest. Then there are weird missed diagnoses, such as Will Borgen's fractured hand in New Jersey in February that wasn't discovered until two days later. 

Adams admitted just in the last couple days he had a bit of an exit interview with the medical team and "asked them hard questions" probably related to some of the above. Good. 

But for now, the Sabres' doctors have made their recommendation and Eichel has to follow it. If this is part of an agenda to push himself out of town and force a trade, that's fine. Eichel is mad about another last-place finish. What's wrong with that? Nothing.

And Adams said he's got no problem with Eichel, who hasn't officially asked for a trade, wearing his heart on his sleeve.

"You're talking about a young professional athlete that wants to be healthy, wants to play and wants to win," Adams said. "We want players and people in this organization that are passionate."

Still, the narrative is already turning away from the unhappiness of Eichel and Sam Reinhart and the stay-or-go ambivalence of Rasmus Ristolainen. The Sabres have lost big with all three of them and maybe it's just time to pivot to other guys, especially since that trio will have a good market and bring good returns.

Adams loved his exit interviews Tuesday with his younger players and they were no less impressive when they met the media. You could do a lot worse than build your team around Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt.

"I was energized, I was excited," Adams said. "We have a tremendous, young core of players that truly care about this team and this organization and this city. And I was extremely impressed by how honest and mature this group was."

Adams also had high praise Wednesday for interim coach Don Granato, who deserves to emerge from the GM's search with the job on a permanent basis. Adams then described what he sees as an overriding issue regarding the composition of this team that he couldn't figure out this year and both Jason Botterill and Tim Murray failed on before him: Getting players to buy into "something bigger than themselves."

Hmm. That seems like a pretty interesting reference to Eichel and Reinhart, the latter of whom has had contract squabbles with the club in the past and would be headed toward another if he doesn't get traded.

"It's more about are you part of the solution and do you want to be here and do you want to be part of something great?" Adams said. "And do you want to make this fanbase proud or don't you? And if the answer's no, then we'll make those decisions."

You will never see me criticize the heart of Eichel, Reinhart and especially Ristolainen, as they have played nearly 1,400 games for this franchise. But results matter. There haven't been any. This latest chapter of Eichel's, if it's a final one in Buffalo, is pretty hard to fathom.

"I understand there's players, veteran-type players that have been through a lot here," Adams said. "Understood. But we are going to get this right  with the people that want to be here."

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