<
>

Agents: Jack Eichel not pushing Sabres to fire Dan Bylsma

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- If Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma's job is in jeopardy, Jack Eichel and his representatives insist the star forward is not the one pushing for a change.

Whether Bylsma returns for a third season won't have any effect on Eichel negotiating a contract extension this summer, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday.

"He loves the Pegulas and wants to be a longtime Sabre, and he loves Tim," Donatelli said, referring to team owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and general manager Tim Murray. "[A coaching change] is not even on his radar screen."

Any suggestion the second-year player is threatening to balk at negotiating a contract extension if Bylsma is still coach is "1,000 percent false," Donatelli said.

"It couldn't be further from the truth," Fish said.

Fish said Eichel "was genuinely excited" following end-of-season meetings with both Murray and Bylsma last week, and "felt very positive with the plans for next year's team."

"I was just more than anything bothered because I thought leaving Buffalo last week, obviously frustrated with the way the season ended," Eichel said to the Buffalo News. "If I were to do over my press conference at the end of the year, I probably should have shown some better body language. It's just so fresh in your mind. Mentally, it's quite frustrating, and it's quite frustrating for all of us on the team. If I showed that frustration a little bit more than other guys in my end-of-the-year meeting, then that's how I am. I think my agent said that I wear it on my sleeve, and I do to a point. I'm an emotional guy. When you want to succeed and you want to do well and that doesn't work out for you, it definitely takes a toll.

"Like I said, I would have liked to have handled my end-of-the-year meeting a little differently, my exit press conference with you guys, but it is what it is. Just hearing these things that people are writing after I have a meeting with Tim and a meeting with Dan, I thought both of them went well. None of anything that I've read so far has been accurate of what was said in those meetings with them. It's a bit frustrating and a bit disheartening because I thought things were heading in the right direction leaving Buffalo. As much as we didn't have a great year, you've got to just look forward to the future. Speaking to Tim and speaking to the Pegulas, just expecting big things for next year. It's just frustrating to still be dealing with this more than anything."

The two Eichel representatives spoke to the AP at a time when Murray is meeting with Terry Pegula.

Last week, Murray backed Bylsma returning for a third season as Sabres coach despite the team missing the playoffs for a sixth straight year. Murray, however, noted the ultimate decision on Bylsma and his own future rests with Pegula.

Murray's rebuilding plan took a step back this season. With a 33-37-12 record, the Sabres finished last in the Atlantic Division standings with two fewer wins than the previous year.

Eichel, 20, is Buffalo's franchise player after being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, one spot behind Edmonton's Connor McDavid.

Eichel has one year left on his entry-level contract. Under NHL rules, the two sides can begin negotiating an extension starting on July 1.

Eichel led Buffalo with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 61 games, despite missing the first two months of the season with a sprained left ankle. He was 11th in the NHL in averaging 0.934 points a game, missing out on finishing among the top 10 by a fraction of a percentage and collecting a $2 million bonus .

Murray referred to Eichel as "our guy," and expects to open talks as soon as rules allow.

"I want to be here for a long time," Eichel told the Buffalo News. "That's the way I look at it. I don't want to go anywhere else. I don't want anybody to think that I want to be somewhere else. I want to be here, and I want to help this team win in any way that I can do that. I just want all the people there to know that."

Eichel's season isn't over: USA Hockey said the Massachusetts-born player has been added to the national team's roster to compete at the world championships next month. Eichel was a member of the U.S. team that won bronze at the 2015 championships.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.