Could the Buffalo Sabres’ season get even worse? Yes.
Mired in a nine-game losing streak, the Sabres will be without their captain, Jack Eichel, for “the foreseeable future.”
Head coach Ralph Krueger gave the news Saturday afternoon, setting a bleak tone for the face of the franchise. The injury is not considered season-ending, but Krueger failed to provide a more definite timetable on how much time Eichel will miss.
“An injury of this nature needs more assessment and more time to understand it,” he said. “We just know that it will be some time here from shorter all the way to what you’ve already mentioned (season-ending), but it’s somewhere in between that.”
He appeared to suffer the injury in the closing minutes of a game against the New York Islanders last Sunday. He was checked in to the boards by Casey Cizikas and was in obvious discomfort, flexing his neck and wincing in pain.
Eichel saw an out-of-state specialist in the past two days to get further analysis. Under the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol rules, he must spend seven days in quarantine as a result of the trip, which means he could miss the remainder of the 2020-21 season.
Former NHL defenseman Aaron Ward reported Eichel is expected to miss around eight weeks with a neck injury, which means he could be sidelined for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.
Pain and Suffering for Sabres
The Sabres are losing with and without Eichel. This season, his presence hasn’t made a difference in the team’s record. The team is skating backward, last in the league with an 0-7-2 record in their last nine games. The Sabres have a record of 6-15-4 and are destined for extending their playoff drought to an NHL-record-matching 10th season.
This season, Eichel missed the first week of training camp after sustaining an upper-body injury during a pre-camp on-ice workout. According to a source with direct knowledge of what happened, Eichel sustained a rib injury during a workout with the team’s director of player development. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team had not disclosed the nature and cause of the injury. The captain also missed two games last month with a lower-body injury.
Hurting on the Score Sheet
Eichel’s been limited to two goals and 16 assists in 21 games this season. Before this most recent injury, he had not scored in 13 straight games. He’s part of a bigger scoring drought – the Sabres rank 30th in a 31-team league, averaging 2.24 goals a game. They’re dead last in five-on-five scoring with only 34 total goals.
With the season spiraling into a playoff lottery abyss, with a first-year general manager with no experience running an organization, fans railing for the termination of coach Krueger and pleas for the owners to stay out of the decision making, the once-proud franchise is in turmoil. Crisis mode has long since passed.
Injuries and COVID-19 haven’t helped. In early February, the team was forced to take a two-week pause due to a virus outbreak. As a result, the already abbreviated schedule is now even more grueling, with 46 games in just 83 days.
Starting netminder Linus Ullmark was injured and is forecast to be out at least a month. Blueliner Jake McCabe, who was having an impressive season, destroyed his knee in a game against the New Jersey Devils, ending his season. Will Borgen also is out for a while as well. Then, rookie center Dylan Cozens was pasted into the boards from behind by Pittsburgh Penguin Zach Aston Reese and is listed as day-to-day. Cozens fell hard, hitting his head into the boards.
Misery Continues for Lackluster Sabres
If the saying is true – that misery loves company, there’s a party going on in Buffalo. With the addition of proven veterans Taylor Hall and Eric Staal, there were expectations of a team that could sneak into the playoffs. But here we are in March, once again playing meaningless games. The team and the organization continue to find ways to redefine rock bottom.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”