BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams intends to move ahead with players who want to be part of the solution in Buffalo, and that — for now — includes disgruntled captain Jack Eichel.
To emphasize his point Wednesday, Adams borrowed the same word — disconnect — Eichel used two days earlier when the star player questioned his future in Buffalo by citing differences with the team over how to treat his herniated disk.
“We want players and people in this organization that are passionate and want to win, that want to be here,” Adams said following a season in which the Sabres finished last in the overall standings for the fourth time in seven years. “The disconnect in my mind right now is from our team to our fanbase and our city in making the people of this community proud.”
Saying Eichel has not asked for a trade, Adams continued skirting questions over whether he would consider dealing the face of the franchise.
Adams, however, held firm in spending the first five minutes of a 42-minute video conference call outlining the team’s medical position regarding an injury that sidelined Eichel since early March. He said the Sabres have little interest in risking the five-time 20-goal scorer having cervical disk replacement surgery because it is something never before performed on an NHL player.
Adams said both sides have been in constant communication and had agreed to wait until early June to determine how to proceed. He said the team’s and Eichel’s own doctors had agreed the best option was continuing what he called “a conservative rehab approach” over having surgery.
“We all want the same thing when it comes to Jack Eichel’s health. We want Eichel to be healthy and playing on top of his game,” Adams said.
Eichel, who has five years left on an eight-year, $80 million contract, raised doubts about his future with the team on Monday, when saying he has a lot to consider this offseason.
“I think the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be,” Eichel said.
Adams didn’t want to guess why Eichel spoke out, and added it doesn’t change how he views the player.
“He’s the captain of our team. He’s a great hockey player. I enjoy Jack. Where we go from here, nothing’s going to change for me personally,” Adams said.
The trouble is, Eichel wasn’t the only veteran expressing an interest in wanting out.
Forward Sam Reinhart was noncommittal when asked about entering an offseason in which he is eligible to be a restricted free agent. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said he’s open to being traded.
Adams acknowledged the comments were a concern, and likely the result of being on a team that extended its playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th season.
“I’m not going to live in the past,” Adams said. “And how we go forward is with people that want to be here, and people that want to be part of the solution.”
Eichel isn’t the only pressing issue on Adams’ plate. He is also in the midst of a coaching search after Ralph Krueger was fired in mid-March with a 6-18-4 record, and the team in the midst of what would become an 18-game winless streak.
Interim coach Don Granato is a candidate to take over after the Sabres showed signs of having a competitive edge in finishing the season 9-16-3.
Adams praised Granato and his staff for doing “a tremendous job under challenging circumstances,” while adding he still intends to conduct a wide-ranging search.
“I think (Granato) believes he’s ready and capable of being the head coach of this team, and now we’ll go through the process,” he said.
Though the 53-year-old Granato has no previous NHL head-coaching experience, he has a lengthy track record of developing young players. That could provide him an advantage with Adams, who expressed excitement at how Buffalo’s young group of players closed the seaso and the eagerness they expressed during exit meetings.
“We’re going to be fine in the longer term with this young core of players that we have,” Adams said. “I do feel there’s this light that I kind of feel comfortable with, this bright light of young players that are passionate about being here and have, to me, some very exciting upside to their game.”
Many of Buffalo’s youngsters voiced their support for Granato, and favored the up-tempo, puck-possession style he introduced.
“To win games, you have to score goals and he kind of based a lot of the game on offense,” rookie center Dylan Cozens said of a team that scored 76 of its 134 goals under Granato over the final 28 games. “He was great. I know a lot of us here loved playing for him, and a lot of guys really shined under him.”
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