The Sabres will be without superstar Jack Eichel after he sustained a high-ankle sprain Saturday night in Boston. He went for the puck behind the Bruins net and lost an edge. His legs/knees bent awkwardly underneath him as Bruins’ defender Matt Grzelcyk piled on top of him. Watch the video of the injury here.
In Eichel’s third season he was leading the Sabres in goals (22) and assists (31) for a total of 53 points in 55 games. While the team has severely underachieved this season he was on pace for the best season of his career. He was only two goals and two assists short of tying his career-highs. With 27 games left he was surely going to set career-highs in goals, assists, and points.
The timetable for his return is projected to be four to six weeks barring setbacks.
Even Less Scoring
The Sabres sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in not only points, but also in the goals-for category. They’ve scored 132 goals, which is a league worst, three less than the Arizona Coyotes (135). The Coyotes, experiencing a similar underachieving season, sit at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Buffalo averages only 2.4 goals per game and that number is only expected to decline without Eichel on the ice. He’s accounted for 22 of the teams 132 goals scored, four more than teammate Evander Kane (18). Eichel has scored or assisted on 40 percent of the Sabres’ goals this season, which is an astounding stat.
Not only will they miss his scoring, but they’ll also miss his incredible playmaking abilities. He led the team in assists (31) when he went down on Saturday night. Teammate Kyle Okposo is the next most on the team with 24 assists on the season. Eichel has unbelievable stick skills and is known for making crazy plays/passes that give his teammates chances to score. Without him on the ice expect the playmaking ability of the team to take a significant step back.
Embrace the tank
The team has finished at the bottom or very close the bottom of the NHL over the past few seasons but hasn’t been lucky enough win the draft lottery to secure the first overall pick in the draft. Right now they sit second last in the league with 42 points, ahead of the Coyotes by four points. With Eichel not expected to return until somewhere between March 10th and March 24th, he’ll miss around 14-20 games. Missing their best player on the ice for that many games should help the Sabres lose more games and cement their spot as last in the league. Being dead last in the league gives them the highest percentage to win the draft lottery and secure the number one overall pick.
With the first overall pick the Sabres can draft the unquestioned number one player, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin from Sweden. The team needs a lot of work on defense and by adding another Rasmus to the defensive core, alongside Rasmus Ristolainen, they’ll greatly be improving their team on the back end.
Dahlin took home a silver medal in the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, NY just a few months ago. He impressed throughout the tournament and the Sabres and their fans would be love to see him return to Buffalo for the long-term.
Trade Kane to a contender
Evander Kane has put together a decent season with 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points through 56 games. Kane says he’s focused on the Sabres and not the trade deadline as it’s now less than two weeks away. But he has stated that he desires to get his first taste of playoff hockey in the NHL. He isn’t likely to experience it in Buffalo for at least a few more years.
The Sabres should be proactive in regards to embracing the tank, as much as fans hate it, and move Kane to a contender for a decent pick in the upcoming draft. By getting rid of their second best offensive piece behind Eichel, they’re further ensuring they reach the bottom of the NHL standings behind the Coyotes. Plus with getting a pick or two for Kane they can add another young player though the draft that will continue to help the rebuild in Buffalo.
Shut Eichel down for the season
There’s no reason to rush Eichel back this season and risk a set back or even another injury. The team has no chance of making the playoffs, they’ll be mathematically eliminated over the next few games. In the best case scenario he returns with 14 games to play, but in all likelihood he won’t be ready until there’s only 10 or less games to play. With the team missing the playoffs and wanting to be in the best position moving forward in regard to the draft and Eichel’s long-term health, they should shut him down for the season.
The longer off-season will ensure that he returns to full health for next season. Without him on the ice for the remaining 27 games they’ll almost certainly finish last in the league.
The 2017-2018 season is already a lost cause and they need to be looking ahead to the 2018-2019 season.
Give the young guns a chance
With the season having already gotten away from them, the Sabres need to give their future talent a chance to shine on the big stage. C.J. Smith, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, Alexander Nylander, and most notably Casey Mittelstadt, are all names that come to mind.
The group is all current Rochester Americans’ players except Mittelstadt. The Americans’ currently sit in the playoff picture as the season nears the 3/4 mark largely due to these players. While Rochester will want them down the stretch for the playoff push, the Sabres should give them a chance in Buffalo to show off their talent with the chance to continue to play up next season. Mittelstadt mightily impressed in Buffalo during the 2018 World Junior Championships, in college with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, and in the USHL.
Featured image courtesy of Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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