Despite his agent’s plea to forego contract talks and play the 2017-18 season out, Jack Eichel signed a long term contract with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday. Entering the third and final year of his entry-level deal, Eichel wanted to put the contract talks behind him and focus on the future.
After a disappointing start to the 2016-17 season and eventually, losing out on a performance bonus at the end it appears Eichel is ready to put the franchise on his back and lead them to the playoffs.
Last season, Eichel was injured during a practice just days before the start of the regular season and missed the team’s first 21-games. He finished the regular season with 24 goals and 57 points, an improvement from his rookie campaign but the former 1st rounder wasn’t satisfied, not with himself and clearly not with the team.
There was speculation that Eichel played a role in the sudden departure of both GM Tim Murray and Head Coach Dan Bylsma last June. Not that the team couldn’t use a shuffle of the deck, it still came as a surprise.
Enter Jason Botterill (GM) and Phil Housley (HC), two former Sabres now with the task of turning the team’s recent failures around and by building the future Terry and Kim Pegula imagined prior to purchasing the team back in 2011. Terry Pegula said then that it would take three years to build a Stanley Cup winning team. Most thought that meant there would be a championship parade through the streets of downtown Buffalo in 2015. Instead, the Sabres finished with the worst point total in their history that season.
Things on the surface seem different, for now. Botterill and Housley have addressed the clubs needs and identified the pieces that may help solve the puzzle that has perplexed previous administrations. Having Eichel buy into the new strategy is key. Eichel prefers a high-tempo style, which has always been Housley’s strength and what he has preached since arriving in Buffalo, for the second time.
Botterill has made some bold moves already that indicate he and the head coach are on the same page.
Trading away fan favorites in forwards Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno for defenseman Marco Scandella and Jason Pomminville and then adding defensemen Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu along with forward Benoit Pouliot demonstrate the franchise’s concern to become a faster team, especially from the back end.
The above moves are not so subtle hints that the Sabres front office listened to their premier forward.
The signing Tuesday indicates that Eichel received the message and is ready to lead.