Contrary to what has been written and talked about by internet clickbait “artists” and dining room table “podcasters”, Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel has not asked the Buffalo Sabres to trade him.
Don’t take my word for it?
Then listen to Sabres GM Kevyn Adams, who scheduled and impromptu Zoom session and spoke from the heart with Buffalo media during Friday afternoon drive time. Adams wanted to clear his throat on negative topics that continue to swirl about his team. Eichel being one of the topics. The rookie NHL GM was visibly angry and let it be known that the owners, management and coaching staff of the Sabres are not sitting idly by as their players continue to struggle on the ice on a game in, game out basis. In my opinion, Adams called out the players, many of which he acquired (Hall, Staal, Eakin, Rieder,Sheahan) and brought to Buffalo to get their heads out of their asses and to start winning hockey games.
Earlier in the day on Friday, Ralph Krueger told media members on a Zoom call that he and his coaches have been havng conversations with the players. There have been one-on-one meetings. There have been group meetings. There have have been specialty teams neetings. "We as coaches have been over communicating to the players". Krueger said that meetings will continue until the productivity and poor offensive play improves.
"Behind the scenes, I have to say we are status quo in what we are demanding on principles and style of play," Krueger said. "But we are certainly looking for new avenues of motivational, psychological approaches and strategies that can bring us out of this negative funk right now."
Kruger has an excellent economy with words. It would be refreshing to here his flip the script from his poetic Shakespearean sonnets to tried and true hockey language like, " We need to get pucks behind the other team's defense and abuse them with our forecheck pressure which will create turnovers that will lead to high danger chances. We are too soft on the puck."
Adams said he is scouring the league to find players to acquire to help the Sabres. With the majority of NHL teams at or near the salary cap ceiling, there are no dollars available inside the NHL today. Good old fashioned hockey trades like the Pierre-Luc Dubois for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic trade are few and far between. Throw in an international pandemic and the fact Adams has only been on the job for nine months and you have a whole lot of nothing going on regarding trades.
Like it or not, Krueger and Adams must dance with who brung 'em. It's long overdue time for Eichel and his teammates help one another to push their proverbial car out of the snow bank because the two truck driver is not coming for a while.
The Sabres find themselves in last place in 31st place with a 6-12-3 record (.357 Win %). The struggling Sabres have a BB gun offense that has scored just 48 goals in its first 21 games. The Sabres have allowed 65 goals against for a -17 goal-differential.
This is not the way Adams and Ralph Krueger scripted this season to play out.
The 2021 Sabres were built to compete on a nightly basis with a swashbuckling, high temp offense driven by captain Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Samson Reinhart, Victor Olofsson and veteran newcomers Taylor Hall and Eric Staal.
Today, Eichel, Hall and Skinner have combined for just two even-strength goals and only four goals in total. Eichel, Hall, and Skinner represent $27 million in salary cap space for the 2021 season. Is there concern in Buffalo? You better believe it there is. The Sabres have 35 games left to get their offense in order. I expect them to get out of the ditch shortly.
What I don’t expect is the Sabres to trade Jack Eichel. In fact, Kevyn Adams set the record straight on Eichel when he said Friday that his captain has not asked for a trade out of Buffalo.
It’s not like Eichel has been sleep walking through the first 21 games of this season. Eichel has been injured since before training camp started yet he has accumulated 16 points in 19 games while he is tied for the team lead in scoring with Samson Reinhart and Victor Olofsson.
To my eye, Eichel continues to lead from the front while playing injured, if he were hurt, he would sit out more games. Eichel’s ankle and core injury clearly are causing him pain and discomfort but he keeps grinding through it. That is leadership. Eichel is a leader and he needs to ignore the trolls and the vultures that seemingly are circling over his head on a daily basis.
Adams is on the road with the team on Long Island where the Sabres looked lost in their 5-2 drubbing at the hands of the Islanders on Thursday night. The same two teams will play matinee games on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Adams said that he is on the roadie to evaluate all aspects of his team. He said his communication with Krueger is frequent. Adams is not asking for his team try to win games. He's demanding that they win games. In many respects, Adams is telling his team "no more Mr. Nice Guy".
“Ralph and I talk every day, multiple times a day,” said Adams. “We’re very honest with each other. He understands the situation we’re in is unacceptable and the players do, everybody does. It’s just flat-out not good enough.”
“Part of my evaluation is to look at everything big picture, small picture and everything in between,” Adams said. “I need to do what’s best for the team right now and also in the long term, so I look at those type of things on a daily basis. I have conversations and what’s interesting about this team and it just flat-out hasn’t been good enough but there’s good people in there and they communicate well with the coaches, and the players enjoy playing for Ralph and the coaching staff. There’s a belief in that locker room. So that’s something that I have to balance.
“But you’re right. It hasn’t been good enough. It hasn’t worked and it needs to."
The Sabres roster that Adams constructed has lost five straight games and out of eleven since their COVID-19 scare ended.
In this 56 game season where the margin for error is razor thin, the Sabres find themselves in the the basement, out of the race. Adams is demanding that his players kick ass, take names and win games in their final 35 games of the regular season. It all begins with Eichel, Hall, Skinner, Staal, Reinhart, Olofsson and the rest of the forwards and defensemen burying their chances at even strength. I've never seen a team miss more open nets and smash goal posts, cross bars than the 2021 Buffalo Sabres. They are snapping the puck around to get open lanes and back door tap-ins, but they are mismiring, whiffing or crushing pucks off the end walls and glass rather than putting the biscuit in the basket.
Adams said its long past due time for the Sabres players to turn the belief and support for one another into results and wins. The fans wants actions not words. Now he knows how the citizens of Sabreland have felt for the past ten years without a playoff appearance. He definitely has heard the opinions and criticisms of his team's perfromances by his owners. Adams reminded his players Friday that they will be held accountable to a higher standard for the rest of the season.
Adams chose his words carefully but presented them forcefully. Sabres media got to see the pissed off version of Kevyn Adams and I must say, I like Adams with a bright red face and gritting his teeth because I sense that he is not messing around this time. He and the Pegulas have seen enough of the gong show and it’s time to correct the problems at their root cause before things veer out of control causing irreparable damage to all parties involved.
“It’s about outcompeting. The guy across from you and if you have that in the DNA of your team then a lot of good things can happen,” Adams said. You’re right, it hasn’t been good enough. The passion hasn’t been good enough, the compete hasn’t been good enough and we have to fix it. When I think back on the construction of the team in the offseason, there was a feeling after I got into the role and speaking with the coaches that maybe we were a little closer than further from success based on some of the things that happened last year. I took a view of a short, medium and long-term approach. The short-term was, ‘OK, how do we make this team competitive and fight to where this team needs to be right now? How do we win right now? And how do we do it responsibility in making the right decisions and not mortgaging the future and all those types of things?’
That was part of it.
“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the three biggest areas that we looked at in the offseason, kind of focused in on, was five-on-five scoring, special teams and character. From the character standpoint, those of you who talk to these guys every day, the people that were brought in are high-character people. Our special teams have been good and 5-on-5 scoring hasn’t, period. It’s great to have character and it’s great to have people care about each other and like each other, but it has to translate to on-ice success. It hasn’t and that’s where it’s unacceptable.”
Adams has says he knows the cause of his team’s early season demise. The Sabres’ GM said his team is just too easy to play against. In other words, the battle level and grit factor are few and far between.
“I could go on a long here. I’ll keep it short for you. I don’t think we’ve been competitive enough in all areas of the ice. I think we’ve shown pockets of it, we’ve shown glimpses at different times but not a consistent hunger and battle and competitiveness through the games. To be honest with you, I think the data would back this up, we give up too many Grade-A scoring chances, which means we’re not hard enough in our defensive zone and we’re not creating enough Grade-A scoring chances in the offensive zone, which means we’re not hungry enough to get to the net and we’re not competing enough. That’s battle and will right? So, we have to be better in those areas.
“I think our goaltending has been solid. Looking back, after the 18- or 19-game mark, we were probably in the middle of the pack with goaltending and I think in the top 10 in slot save chances. So, some of the data and analytics, the goaltending’s been fine. I think Linus (Ullmark), before he got hurt, was playing at a very, very high level. We just flat out haven’t been good enough around him.”
Adams said he wants to make trades to shake up his team, however, league wide COVID quarantines are not working in his favor. In other words, he can’t get puck luck when it comes to trading the under performers out and replacing them with workers and producers.
“I’m waking up every day looking for solutions,” Adams said. “It’s an interesting time right now. I’m on the phone every day with all the different teams around the league and everybody’s having conversations. I think what’s interesting is with all the protocols and quarantine, it’s going be a challenging year. And so, I think you’re seeing more conversations happening even though the deadline’s still over a month away. And I’m having those."
Like you said, Kevyn. Talk is cheap. Try harder. Try smarter. Burn the midnight oil and make a damn trade or two to shore up your goaltending and to inject offense into your stale, struggling 5-v-5 offense.
“Teams clearly know where we’re at and what’s going on and I’m having those conversations. But we are not going to be reactionary. My job is to take the emotion at times out and figure out solutions to improve. Sometimes that means short term, sometimes that might be for the longer term. That’s what we’re working on.
“Am I upset right now? Yeah, I am upset and we’re going to have those conversations. But I would never do something because you’re upset or because you’re emotional on where we’re at. But, let’s be honest, it’s got to get better.”
The winning better start soon, Kevyn. Or else.
One thing we know about the Pegulas is that they are evaluating their management team and coaching staff of the Sabres. The Pegulas hired Brandon Beane as general manager and Sean McDermott as head coach to lead the Buffalo Bills out of the NFL abyss and into the upper echelon of teams in the National Football League. The Bills continue to trend upwards and just competed in the AFC Championship game with the Next stop being Super Bowl 56.
Whether its fair or not, the Sabres will always be compared to the Bills because the Pegulas own both franchises. Adams and Krueger had better find a solution to what is ailing their current roster of players, and fast. Do Eichel and the Sabres want to play for yet another new head coach and another new general manager this season?