- Buffalo Sabres superstar Jack Eichel told NHL.com that the team’s off-season moves ‘sparked some excitement in me’
- The Sabres have not qualified for the playoffs for the past nine seasons, including last season’s expanded format that included 24 teams
- Sabres have increased expectations after win-now off-season moves with odds that carry decent value
It appears Sabres superstar Jack Eichel is a fan of new general manager Kevyn Adams, as he recently told NHL.com, as he praised the team’s off-season moves and believes it has not only excited himself but his Sabres teammates as well.
Eichel: Off-Season Moves ‘Sparked Some Excitement in Me’
Buffalo Sabres superstar Jack Eichel has been more than willing to voice his frustrations in years past as the Sabres continue to fall short of expectations – and the playoffs – but the 24-year-old took a different tone when speaking to NHL.com about the Sabres’ off-season moves.
“We’re really excited,” Eichel told NHL.com. “They’re great moves from management in the offseason. Now, more than anything at this point, you want to get back playing.”
Under new general manager Kevyn Adams, the Sabres added the top forward on the free-agent market in Taylor Hall while the team also signed center Cody Eakin and traded for veteran pivot Eric Staal. Now, for the first time in his five-year NHL career, Eichel has some depth behind him on the center-ice depth chart with scoring on the wings that could combine to improve the Sabres’ offense next season.
“Whenever you can add people like Taylor Hall and Eric Staal and Cody Eakin to your roster and the locker room, they not only bring talent to the ice but also veteran presence to the locker room,” Eichel said. “In a situation like ours where we’re trying to find a winning culture with a young group and trying to figure out the right way to do things at times, I think having older guys can help you out especially during periods of adversity.”
Hall tallied 16 goals and 42 points last season between the New Jersey Devils and Arizona Coyotes. He hasn’t ruled out a return to Buffalo after signing a one-year deal this offseason in the midst of tightened league-wide economics.
“It’s close to home, it’s close to my parents,” Hall told the Sabres’ website in October. “It’s a place that I could see myself for a while. Honestly, the best thing for both sides is that this goes very well and I’m a Sabre for a long time.”
The newest Buffalo Sabre is droppin’ in to say hi 🙌@hallsy09 | #LetsGoBuffalo pic.twitter.com/3nDl3KPegY
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 12, 2020
The Sabres traded winger/center Marcus Johansson to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Staal on the heels of a season in which he notched 19 goals and 47 points in 66 games. The 16-year NHL veteran spent the last four seasons with the Wild after parts of 12 seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes and a half-season with the New York Rangers.
Eakin signed a two-year, $4.5M with the Sabres this offseason and should open the season as the team’s third-line center behind Eichel and Staal. The nine-year vet spent last season split between the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, notching five goals and 20 points in 49 games. He’s also skated for the Dallas Stars and Washington Capitals, the latter of whom drafted him in the third round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Years of Frustration
Not only have the Sabres not qualified for the postseason in Eichel’s five-year tenure, they haven’t made it to the dance in each of the last nine seasons. Such a lengthy drought had Eichel frustrated after the NHL announced its expanded 24-team playoff format this past summer, a plan that did not include Eichel’s Sabres.
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” Eichel said in May. “You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months. It’s been a tough five years with where things have [gone]. I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I’m on the ice. I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season.”
Eichel’s comments largely echoed that of former Sabres star center, Ryan O’Rielly, who voiced his own displeasure with the organization’s consistent losing before he was dealt to the St. Louis Blues prior to the 2018-19 season.
Eichel’s comments put his own name into the rumor mill shortly after they were made public. His agent denied that his client every wanted out of western New York.
“I hear that (trade talk) a lot,” agent Peter Fish told TSN’s Bob McKenzie in September. “Jack wants to win, he’s frustrated (not winning) but, no, he doesn’t want out. Jack is preparing to head to Buffalo at some point here and prepare for the season, whenever that may be. That’s all he controls.”
Increased Expectations for Player, Team
With the new additions to the roster, the Sabres now sit at +5000 to win the 2021 Stanley Cup, as per BetOnline. Prior to signing Hall, the team sported average odds of +6033 to win the Cup, only to see those odds shift dramatically.
Even Eichel himself has increased expectations despite putting up 160 points over the last two seasons, good for 12th league wide. He was recently one of the favorites to win Hart Trophy as league MVP and should be once again when a new set of odds open up closer to the season.
While I’m suspect on the Sabres’ Stanley Cup chances, I like Eichel’s odds of an MVP alongside Hall. Such an award will depend on his team snapping their nine-year playoff drought, which could very well be his biggest obstacle in doing so. However, as far as a favorite/medium-shot to win the award, I believe he and Hall can do enough damage to certainly get his name into the conversation.
At the end of the day, one thing has become clear: even the team’s franchise pillar has increased expectations for the 2020-21 Buffalo Sabres.