Jack Eichel has already made close to $40 million from the Buffalo Sabres by age 24, a figure most of us common folk can barely imagine in our lifetimes. My suggestion to him as his stalemate with the team drags on?
Use some of the money to help get things moving.
The narrative that the Sabres are preventing Eichel from getting the artificial disk replacement he wants on his neck injury isn't accurate. Eichel can get whatever surgery he wants, but can't get paid unless he follows the team's medical advice.
The Sabres, as has been well-documented for months, have been recommending a fusion surgery. It's what notables such as Peyton Manning and David Wright had late in their careers, and it's a procedure that Eichel believes is rife with pitfalls. Most notably the need for repeat surgeries later in life.
Eichel's preferred method, as we've all learned, has never been performed on an NHL player but is often misstated as an "experimental" procedure. That's not true, either, as the disk replacement surgery has been done for roughly 20 years on athletes in sports such as rugby and mixed martial arts.
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Eichel has been left dangling, a rough look for the Sabres and for the league as a whole. You don't want a star player left on the sideline, especially when it comes to his health. That the NHLPA didn't foresee this kind of situation when the CBA extension was signed 15 months ago is on the union. Teams have the hammer, and they will use it.
The Sabres aren't going to trade Eichel until they can get the return they want. But it's going to be just about impossible to get that kind of multipronged package for an injured player.
How can you break the logjam? It's time for Ex-Captain Jack to take a bold step: Go have your surgery.
Yes, he'll get suspended by the Sabres. But that might happen anyway when the season starts and Eichel isn't available to play because he has rejected the club's medical advice. Yes, he'll lose his salary in that timeframe and he'll be paying for a procedure to fix an injury that came during a game and not from some off-ice mishap. But if he is so sure this is the procedure that will get him back on the ice, he should go do it.
The Sabres aren't going to terminate his contract. They're going to want major return for their asset. If he's healthy, plenty of teams would want to make a deal. The Sabres' demands, long believed to be at least four pieces and perhaps more, are just too much right now for an injured player. Eichel can take the step he needs to get cleared medically and then get a new address.
"What they're asking for is insane," a Western Conference source told me of the Sabres' trade demands earlier this week. "I get that they're trading Eichel, but what do they really expect if you don't know if he can play?"
The other tentacle to this situation is undoubtedly numerous teams are rooting on the Sabres here, wanting to make sure they don't cave to the player's demand. Especially when the CBA is completely on the team's side.
Why has Eichel not gone to a grievance? He will lose. What would likely happen if he took the Sabres to court? He would lose. The CBA is pretty clear in this area. The team took the second opinion Eichel received under advisement and then made its determination he should have fusion surgery.
The Sabres are not denying Eichel treatment, not questioning if he's injured. They're recommending surgery, a path that teams don't want to go down with their star players. There's no denial of medical treatment, no accusations of any faking of an injury to force a trade. The player is hurt but is refusing to get the treatment his team is recommending.
Eichel is not above the CBA. He's in the players' union. The rules apply to him, too.
Sportsnet reported last month that the NHL and NHLPA first got directly involved in the Eichel talks in August when the Sabres and former Eichel agents Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli each reported their stances. There has been little movement from either side since this whole sordid affair first became public in May.
Maybe that's starting to change. Teams with interest have reportedly been getting access to Eichel's medical records for the first time, although a source close to the situation said the information is not coming directly from the Sabres as TSN inferred Thursday night and reported on its Web site on Friday. You would imagine new agent Pat Brisson's regular talks with Sabres GM Kevyn Adams have pushed the exchange of information as being very necessary.
The Sabres had been refusing to let teams examine Eichel's record on the grounds that they were not getting serious offers from other teams, but it was plainly obvious nobody was going to make a trade without seeing what they might be dealing with first.
"Teams want clarity. And over the course of the summer, there wasn't great clarity," Adams said when he met with Buffalo reporters at the start of training camp. "We have more clarity. The hope and the strategy that we were working through in the offseason was to how do we get Jack Eichel healthy and how to, if possible, avoid a surgical procedure. Now we know where we're at. ... This is an elite franchise player in his prime under contract. And we need to as an organization move forward, but we can't compromise in certain things we believe."
One other new wrinkle came Wednesday when the NHL announced its critical dates calendar for the 2021-22 season. A slightly later start to the season combined with the Olympic break has pushed things back slightly.
Instead of being in late June, the draft in Montreal is scheduled for July 7-8. Normally, July 1 is the start of a new league year, but that won't be the case this year and it impacts Eichel's situation.
You would think the Sabres would have Eichel dealt long before then, but the date to watch now is July 13, 2022. The league confirmed that will be the date that no-movement clauses, such as the one in Eichel's contract, will kick in under the league calendar for 2022-23.
So that would be the date the Sabres lose control of the situation and Eichel can pick where he wants to play, assuming that team wants him and can agree to compensation with the Sabres. But Eichel would have the leverage and be able to force the Sabres’ hand if they hope to get some return.
Of course, if the Sabres still have Eichel on their team next July, they will have long ago lost control of what they're doing.