Two weeks have passed: Are we ready for this talk?
On November 4The tenth2021, it finally happened. After nearly six months of an extremely awkward rhetorical battle between the Buffalo Sabers front desk and Jack Eshel camp, the star center has finally been traded for the Vegas Golden Knights. The front office decided to draw a line in the sand about what kind of surgery he would undergo for a particularly ugly injury, and it was a showdown once we knew the battle had begun. Unless he was given the option of surgery, Eichel would be trading as it became apparent in late spring. Even if he had undergone surgery, it was likely already the death knell for the deterioration of the relationship between the player and management.
The move may have had its roots a year ago after ownership laid off a staggering number of employees at the organization, citing the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supposedly Captain Cypress, depending on how you read his words in certain interviews since the trade took place, requested a deal at that point that shocked new GM and ownership alike resulting in a series of otherwise inexplicable moves that fall.
No one with any idea of the last decade of Buffalo Cypress history will tell you that it was a great relationship simply thanks to the results on the ice. Winning solves all problems after all. After an early morning trade on that bustling November morning, Cypress fans expressed their hostility toward their departing captain even though he expressed gratitude for his fruitless time at Buffalo. Some of the things that came out across local sports radio and social media channels from fans were shocking because the nature of Eshel’s slander had nothing to do with the results on the ice. We all felt frustrated, he did too, but suddenly many Sabers fans took comfort in calling him an outsider and renewing a man’s love for his hometown New England Patriots as if it wasn’t entirely normal to admire the team you grew up watching.
I vividly remember one of my boxing days a few years ago. Jack Eichel scored twice against his childhood team, the Boston Bruins. I watched the game at home for the holidays with my uncle who repeated a common truth among fans in sports around the world: “Fans are forever, players come and go…” before finishing with “…this kind of performance is the way you like The city would hate you in another way.” I knew what he meant right away: All the adulation about Tom Brady could be forgiven if he played hard with our team, our clothing line, and our logo. What seemed to fade instantly after Eichel was traded was this perspective in his time with us here at Buffalo: He always gave us the best of him.
It’s almost impossible to win a deal where a player like Jack Eichel leaves your team and Elite 1C will be a hole to fill in the future. What we did or did not get for Eshel will come to an end with time; But what we need now as Sabers fans as he moves on to a Western Conference rival and perhaps shows us a more painful remake of O’Reilly’s story is perspective: a cool and real but deeply rooted one.
In the National Hockey League, teams that have not won the Stanley Cup are located in states far from it. Historical or currently winning franchises are vying for the trophy as well, of course, but for teams without the trophy, there is a noticeable difference. When one of these franchises earns a star-caliber Jack Eichel, comparisons with Sidney Crosby’s influence on the Pittsburgh Penguins or Alexander Ovechkin’s influence on Washington capitals will come naturally. You can get these generational players to win the Stanley Cup. This last example seemed more relevant to us during Eichel’s time here: it might take a while (maybe several separate rebuilds) but we have an Eichel Jack. There was a certain pressure on Ovi and Caps that wasn’t there in the same way for Sid and the Pens. It’s the Stanley Cup. In this league, it’s always the Stanley Cup: As it should be.
When you have a star who gives you Stanley Cup expectations, it is important how those expectations are handled, because individual engagement and civic pride wrap them up. Jacques Eichel has always felt these expectations here; It was audible in his voice. What he realized was that no matter how seriously he took them, he wouldn’t be able to do everything.
Let’s just say it: It doesn’t matter if Jack Eichel asked for a deal in 2020. Don’t be surprised: We all felt hopeless after that Tuesday in the summer of COVID when everyone and their coach were fired. It looked as if the third rebuild/reset (?) was only coming in the fifth year since Eichel was drafted. But the difference is that I turn off our phones and go back to our real life. The shooting massacre dubbed “Red Tuesday” wasn’t something Jacques Echelle could walk away from, captain or not, his life was meant to be. This is his job, his profession in the sports he loves. Maybe he just expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation and wanted to see some progress in building the list around him. Apparently the new front office saw Eshel’s point of view as they set out to take steps to bring up Taylor Hall among others, as new General Manager Kevin Adams put it on tape: “…Go to the Stanley Cup.”
We look back and laugh at that episode of Sabers Embedded as if anyone knew what was going to happen back then. Technically speaking, the previous season that was halted only saw Saber miss the bubble playoffs by one point in the standings! But the new season will be another one outside the playoff competition before March…when the season started in January! It shouldn’t surprise any of us then when Jacques Eichel fell down with what can only be described as an extremely traumatic injury from a herniated disc in his neck, and the entire wobbling relationship between management and player came to a head to say the least. Disagreement (and this was not a simple disagreement). The injury was just the catalyst for what was already a precarious situation. And let’s be clear here: This is in the front office, not the player.
So why did we fans start roasting the guy as soon as the Central Registry hired the trade official?
Each season we were increasingly less surprised that they didn’t take the next step because the team was another season Jacques Eichel wondered when he wouldn’t focus on the only competitive streak on the roster. On top of the poor construction was the poor posting of former coach Ralph Krueger, who put Jeff Skinner in the press box or fourth line when he was feeling generous. Eichel’s best winger the previous season had disappeared for no apparent reason other than some old punishment for not making it onto the hit list. Really, ask yourself a few questions if you’re a fan who feels like booing when Eichel returns to KeyBank Center in a Vegas shirt. Think back to his time here…
How many times have we told ourselves as fans: This team couldn’t win a first-round game with Columbus or Florida? How many times have we said they can use help in defense? How many times have we said that goalkeepers weren’t quite there? How many times have we complained about the lack of secondary points? How many times have we said that no one whose name does not begin with the letter J can register?
There are many reasons why Jack Eichel, the savior we dreamed of with the franchise in 2015, is no longer a Buffalo Saber. One of these reasons is not Jacques Eichel. Wise fans have always tended to agree on the spin and mismanagement of three GMs and four coaches that often let Eshel carry the entire team on his back. When you are in a situation like this, you may hurt yourself. On some nights this fact hit us starkly. However, when the last day came and the divorce baptism trade finally took hold, we found all of our exhausting, vague, reason to hate Jacques Eichel. Fighting makes a breakup seem less painful, doesn’t it? Our insecurities as a fan base are no excuse to discredit one of the best swordsmen in franchise history.
However, we as fans are absolutely right to be disappointed. As a privilege, it was an era lost in the purest sense of that expression. Eshel did not inhale the playoffs here. Even Pierre Turgeon saw in the playoffs as a saber. No decade of Sabers history has been worse than the one in which Eichel was penned. Disappointment is a completely correct reaction to a lost age. But if disappointment escapes your body in the form of booing, it’s because of your lack of perspective.
In a few short years no one will blame any of this on Jack Eichel. He will occupy a place in franchise history not much different from Pierre Torgon. But when we think about it again, perspective should color our thoughts on the player himself. Until then, we need to address disappointment with perspective, not anger toward someone who gave us some of the best years of his sporting life. We must live up to our nickname as the City of Good Neighbors for someone like Jack.
Boos doesn’t reflect well on us after what management put it through. If we boo him, all those cynical fans out of the market who don’t think much of us will be confirmed to believe we are hordes of Neanderthals. The cheers, on the other hand, are a signal to him and every neutral observer in sight that we understand what happened: that the fan base gets it even if the administration doesn’t. It was the failure of the front office, not the fans.
I don’t know about you, but personally I encourage it.