Sports

Exploring trade rumors, surgery options for Jack Eichel and the Sabres


On Adele’s new single, “Easy on me,” she rhapsodizes: “There ain’t no room for thing to change when we are both so deeply stuck in our ways.”

Is there any other way to describe the Sabres-Jack Eichel soap opera drama? The two sides are both sticking to what they want. And now there’s a new wrinkle, which kind fits the next set of lyrics: “You can’t deny how hard I have tried. I changed who I was to put you first.”

The only question is, will it get to: “But now I give up.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the latest installment of Jack Eichel and The Sabres.

What is Jack Eichel’s injury?

Eichel was diagnosed with a herniated disk after hitting his head on the boards against the Islanders on March 7. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniation occurs when one of the rubbery cushions (the disk) in the spine ruptures or tears and the nucleus pushes out. The herniated disk can then impact the nerves nearby resulting in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm. Not great for a hockey player that is required to carry a stick around and shoot pucks.

Why the disagreement over Jack Eichel’s surgery? 

Initially, rest and rehab was the desired course of treatment, and Eichel was shut down for the season on April 14. Over time it became clear that the herniation was not reacting as they wanted, and surgical options were discussed. 

“I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt,” Eichel said via Zoom after the season when speaking to reporters. “I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. It’s been tough at times. Right now, for me, the most important thing is just trying to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

According to a statement by his then agents at the end of July (Eichel switched from Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli to Pat Brisson at the end of August), Eichel is comfortable with having artificial disk replacement surgery, which was recommended by an independent neurosurgeon and other spine specialists consulted. It also noted that they thought the Sabres were in agreement, “until that was no longer the case.”

The Sabres preferred treatment is anterior cervical discectomy which usually involves removing the impacted disk and fusion (ACDF) by placing a bone graft where the disc was. This was the surgical procedure done on former NFL QB Peyton Manning in 2011 — before he won a Super Bowl with the Broncos — and on former Mets captain David Wright. The surgery Eichel wants, artificial disk replacement does not involve fusion and instead, an artificial disk is placed between the two cervical vertebrae. While ACDF is more common and, according to spine-health.com, the “gold standard,” it notes that studies do show artificial disk replacement surgery provides more mobility. However, it hasn’t been done on an NHL player before. 

Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, teams have the final say on the treatment of injuries.

“What I can tell you is we have absolute trust in our doctors. They are the medical experts,” said GM Kevyn Adams at the start of training camp. “They’ve been consistent since Day 1 … they’ve never wavered from what they’ve suggested would be the next step. And if there was something else done, they would be uncomfortable with it.

Will the Sabres trade Jack Eichel?

Back at the start of camp Eichel was stripped of his captaincy and the rumor mill, that has been churning endlessly of him being shipped out of Western New York sped up. The former No. 2 overall pick reportedly asked out in the offseason, reportedly based on the two parties not seeing eye-to-eye on the surgical options. 

Eichel failed his physical in September, which was expected since he’s had that herniated disk in his neck since March, and was placed on injured reserve.

“Unfortunately, yesterday, Jack did not pass his physical,” Adams said. “To this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with the fusion surgery that our doctors are suggesting. So we’re going to continue to work towards solutions.”

It seemed that a divorce (which is, ironically, the muse of Adele’s new album), was imminent. But now, that may not be the case.

ESPN’s Emily Kaplan is reporting that the Eichel camp is connecting to the Sabres one more time to reach a resolution. Eichel is still aiming for his surgical choice and has gathered more medical opinions supporting this. 

With the NHL season underway, the urgency to get this done — whether Eichel gets traded or he finally gets his surgery — has reached a new level. Kaplan notes that trade talks have tempered with the Sabres holding fast on their demands for a Grade A return and the five teams who were interested last week may not be now.

As Adams said in September: “Teams want clarity and over the course of the summer, there wasn’t great clarity. We have more clarity now. 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 on certain things that we believe. We’re going to work at it. Every day we do. We have in the past and we will continue to.”

Obviously, a major hurdle that comes with a trade — aside from him missing a considerable amount of time once he does get operated on (weeks for the procedure he wants; months for the procedure the Sabres want) — is the hefty cap hit (five years left at $10 million AAV). But, injury aside, 24-year-old Hart Trophy candidates don’t grow on trees and the trade is more of a big-picture, long-term move.




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