The Buffalo Sabres have one of the NHL’s best young stars. Now they have to put him in a position to win.
The Buffalo Sabres are wasting the talents of a franchise player.
That is the story according to ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, in a new piece that asked writers to pick which top-20 scorer they would build a team around.
Although three of the five writers who contributed to the piece selected Auston Matthews as their franchise player, with one vote for Anze Kopitar thrown in there, Wysh made this argument in favor of Eichel:
"In his past 70 games, Eichel is nearly a point per game player (0.97) on an abjectly terrible team. He’s got the talent to be one of those centers — like Matthews and McDavid — who can be a lethal goal scorer and an inventive playmaker. And there’s a sizable personality bubbling under the surface of a young player who has openly lamented the way conservative hockey culture deadens the individuality of players. I think there’s an Alex Ovechkin-esque level of swagger and a refreshing level of candor in Eichel waiting to burst forth."
Prior to the start of tonight’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Eichel has 1 points, tied with 12 other players for the league’s fifth-highest point total. If he is able to maintain his 1.22 points per game production (not likely, I know) and can stay healthy (knock on wood), he will top 100 points this season. Even if he doesn’t, he is easily on pace to blow my projection of 76 points out of the water.
It is hard to argue against what Wyshnyski has to say, and it is nice to hear Eichel get some respect from the media. However, when it came to the Buffalo Sabres franchise as a whole, what Wysh had to say next was less-than-flattering:
"With due respect to Matthews, I like Eich for my franchise player. So long as that franchise has absolutely nothing to do with the Buffalo Sabres, who are now in their third year of squandering this generational talent."
That last point should cut the Sabres’ front office to the bone. While the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers made it to the playoffs just one and two seasons, respectively, after acquiring Matthews and Connor McDavid, the Sabres currently look nothing like a playoff-bound team. It was wise to sign Eichel to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension before the season began . . . but make no mistake about it: if the Sabres cannot give Eichel a taste of the playoffs soon, he will force a trade out of the 716 in search of a team that can.
The Buffalo Sabres still have time to turn this season around, but even the most optimistic fan understands that the team that has been built around Jack Eichel is still lacking in many, many areas. Hopefully Eichel can continue the pace he is on and keep his team afloat until the new-look front office can surround him with some more talent.