Since the Buffalo Sabres last played a hockey game on March 9, which feels like a lifetime ago, the hot topic in the hockey world revolves around captain Jack Eichel, and not for good reason.
The trade conversations are completely understandable. The Sabres have a league-long nine-year playoff drought.
Since Eichel debuted for the Sabres in 2015, Buffalo has the second-worst record in the NHL at 156-188-53, barely edging out the Detroit Red Wings (153-194-52).
It’s been bad. Really bad.
If I’m talking or writing about hockey anywhere, I’m going to talk or write about Eichel. It’s a unique and curious situation. He’s one of the best players in the world, who has been in the league for five years and has yet to play a meaningful game.
So, where are we?
A term that’s often used by our own Jeremy White is “fear bunker”. Do we need a Jack Eichel fear bunker? How many more bad seasons away are we from Eichel finally saying “I’m done.”?
The good news, is we haven’t reached that point yet.
After striking the fear of God into all Sabres fans with a tweet about Eichel trade rumors, TSN semi-retired hockey insider Bob McKenzie says Eichel does not want to be moved, and the Sabres do not want to trade their captain.
If not now, then when?
Maybe the answer is July 1, 2026, when Eichel’s current contract expires and he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The contract could be the Sabres’ saving grace. Having six years of leverage would help prevent any star player from asking for a trade.
Hopefully the Sabres don’t care about the outside noise, because if the 2020-21 season goes poorly, it will only get louder next offseason. That’s the likeliest outcome.
There’s an incredibly easy way to end any Eichel trade conversation – be competitive.
This is a tall task for new Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams, but he may already be on his way to making the Sabres more competitive in the short-term.
Adams has already done something that Jason Botterill couldn’t do for the two years after the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Adams has seemingly stabilized the second line center position with the acquisition of Eric Staal.
If Staal had been with the Sabres for the last two years, could Buffalo had pushed for a playoff spot? I mean, they were in first place in the entire league early in both seasons and didn’t even come close in the end.
Some consistent production behind Eichel easily could have been the difference.
The blueline still needs some work, hopefully starting with Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Montour trades, and the Sabres could use an upgrade in net.
Every move the Sabres make should be a win-now type of move. If there is a player out there like a Staal, who is in his 30s but you think will help you win, you do it. If a team wants the eight overall pick for a player that will help the Sabres a lot in the short-term, you do it.
If that plan doesn’t come together, expect to be right back here again next offseason talking about when Eichel’s breaking point comes. Problem is, at some point, that could actually happen.
So, do we need to build a Jack Eichel fear bunker? I think we do. It’s something I’ve begun thinking about with every move they make.
Every year that goes by without a competitive, or even playoff team just increases the odds of him asking out and decreases the odds of Eichel being with the Sabres past the summer of 2026.