When Jack Eichel was still a member of the Sabres at the conclusion of the NHL draft on Saturday, General Manager Kevyn Adams left the door ajar for the team's captain and top-line center to remain in Buffalo.
A source told The Buffalo News on Monday that General Manager Kevyn Adams and the Buffalo Sabres have extended qualifying offers to all but two of their restricted free agents: goalie Stefanos Lekkas and winger Dawson DiPietro.
"I would have no problem at all if Jack Eichel is on our team when we start training camp," Adams said when asked by The Buffalo News if Eichel could remain with the Sabres. "I have said this before and I’ll say it again: If we are in a position that we believe will help our franchise, not just short term but for the long term in building this out, building around a core and the foundation of critical assets, then we’d be open and looking at it. If we didn’t have that on the table or don’t think that makes sense, then we won’t do something."
It did not take long for Eichel's representatives to slam the door shut.
Eichel's agents, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, told Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on Sunday that every conversation between them and the Sabres is based around finding a different team for Eichel, who has five years remaining on a contract that counts $10 million against the salary cap each season.
“Our expectation is that Jack is going to be traded in the near future, and all of our discussions have been centered around that issue," Eichel's representatives said in a dual response to Friedman.
That doesn't mean a trade is imminent. Friedman reported over the weekend that teams interested in acquiring the 24-year-old center are waiting for Adams to lower his asking price. Eichel watch was in full force ahead of the draft's first round Friday night because the Sabres were interested in acquiring a top 10 pick in a deal involving the face of the franchise.
However, a trade did not materialize during draft weekend, raising questions about how much longer Eichel will be part of the Sabres. Though Adams insisted he's not working on a deadline, some suitors may bow out of the Eichel sweepstakes if a deal isn't done by the beginning of free agency Wednesday. After all, teams may choose to use that cap space on a free-agent center such as Phillip Danault of the Montreal Canadiens. The center market in free agency isn't deep, though, and not even Danault or David Krejci of the Boston Bruins have Eichel's gifts.
Eichel, who was drafted second overall by Buffalo in 2015, scored a career-high 36 goals in 2019-20, a season in which he had a 17-game point streak and became a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate. Across six seasons in Buffalo, Eichel has totaled 139 goals and 355 points in 375 games.
However, there is the issue of Eichel's desire to undergo surgery on the herniated disk in his neck. Eichel reportedly wants a disk replacement, a specific procedure that has not been done on an NHL player. The Sabres' doctors won't approve. Eichel won't change his mind. The disagreement led Eichel to question his future in Buffalo and appears to have permanently fractured the relationship with the Sabres.
Eichel played through injury for the duration of his 21-game 2020-21 season, which ended March 7 with a game on Long Island in which he appeared to be in pain on the bench after a check from behind. He also suffered a broken rib shortly before training camp and played through a lingering abdominal injury that he could not have surgically repaired during the Covid-19 pandemic. Eichel finished with only two goals and 18 points.