Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel fails physical, stripped of captaincy

Jack Eichel failed his physical at Buffalo Sabres training camp and has been stripped of his captaincy, as the team and its franchise player remain at an impasse over surgery options.

Eichel, 24, has been out since March with a herniated disk in his neck. The star center and his team have battled over the proper way to treat that injury, and he's requested a trade out of Buffalo. He'll be placed on injured reserve to start the 2021-22 NHL season.

"Unfortunately, yesterday, Jack did not pass his physical," Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said Thursday. "To this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with the fusion surgery that our doctors are suggesting. So we're going to continue to work towards solutions."

Eichel is in the fourth year of an eight-year, $80 million contract. It's his last season before a full no-movement clause kicks in next summer.

After Eichel's injury diagnosis, the Sabres opted for non-surgical rehabilitation, before their medical experts suggested an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion to alleviate Eichel's discomfort. Eichel wanted disk replacement surgery, with an artificial disk being placed in his neck. It promises a shorter rehab time, the potential for less loss of motion and far less potential for the necessity for future surgeries. But it's never been done on an NHL player before, while the Sabres' preferred method is more commonplace.

"We have absolute trust in our doctors. They are the medical experts. They've been consistent since day one," Adams said. "They've never wavered from what they think should be the next step, and if something else was done, they would be uncomfortable with it."

Adams has been engaged in trade talks about Eichel throughout the offseason, and those talks continue. The second-year general manager said there's no timeline on an Eichel trade.

"If we have an opportunity to [improve our team], and we feel it's the right thing for the franchise, then we'll do it," Adams said. "But if there was a solution over the summer, and we thought it made sense, then we would have done it. Obviously that's not the case."

He wouldn't comment on whether teams have asked that Eichel have surgery before trading for him.

"Teams want clarity. Over the course of the summer, there wasn't great clarity. But we have clarity now," he said. "It has played a role in this. [Eichel] is an elite, franchise player in his prime. We have to move forward as a franchise, but we can't compromise on certain things we believe."

Adams wouldn't say that Eichel has played his last game as a member of the Sabres, but he has been stripped of the captaincy he's held since 2018.

"I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres. From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision," said Adams, who said the team will not start the season with a captain.

Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula support how the team is handling Eichel's situation, Adams said. He's also engaged in daily discussions with Pat Brisson, whom Eichel hired as his agent.

"We will do things the right way. We will stick to our plan. We're not going to cave or back down because of pressure or because people are saying 'You have to do this.' We're going to do what we feel is right," Adams said. "My job is to take all the information and do what we believe is right for the organization."