This season has been a great big ball of suck for the Buffalo Sabres. They’re stuck in the loaded East Division, have played 25 games, won an NHL-worst six, and they don’t exactly have a lot of hope for the future.
Between Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo, and Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo has $20.4 million in cap hits tied up in three players, all signed at those figures beyond this year, who have combined for 13 points. Eight of those points belong to Ristolainen, a defenseman who’s the cheapest of the three at $5.4 million and who becomes a free agent after next season. Okposo, with no goals and three assists this season, is signed through 2023 at $6 million a year, while Skinner’s $9 million annual hit goes all the way to 2027. He has one goal and one assist in 22 games.
The Taylor Hall signing? That hasn’t worked at all. The former MVP has two goals, 14 assists, and leads the Sabres in penalty minutes. Meanwhile, Buffalo’s leading scorer is Sam Reinhart, who has 11 goals and eight assists… just in time to hit restricted free agency after the season, get a big raise over his current $5.2 million salary, and immediately be massively overpaid.
How could things get any worse?
Jack Eichel, the franchise player who’s had a pretty miserable season but still is a franchise player, is “out for the foreseeable future,” according to future ex-Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, with an upper-body injury that according to The Associated Press, “is not yet considered season-ending.”
Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft who has spent his entire career with the Sabres and is on his way to going 6-for-6 in missing the playoffs, has two goals and 16 assists in 21 games this season, a year after he was eighth in the Hart Trophy vote. He was hurt last Sunday on a hit by Casey Cizikas of the Islanders near the end of a 5-2 Buffalo loss and has not played since. At the very least, Eichel will miss the next week due to COVID-19 protocol after traveling to see a specialist for his injury.
Without knowing the nature of the injury — Eichel was spotted flexing his neck after the Cizikas hit, but sometimes neck injuries can be connected to concussions — it’s impossible to know what to expect for Eichel as far as recovery time. Obviously the Sabres aren’t saying either.
What is clear is that Eichel being hurt now is bad news for his chances to get out of the mess of Buffalo before the April 12 trade deadline. Eichel is signed for a $10 million annual cap hit through 2026, when he’ll be a still-prime 29 years old, and an Eichel trade would not only help the Sabres get started on (another) much-needed rebuild, but give an underrated star a chance to play for an actual contender.
It would be easy to say that things can’t get any worse for Eichel or the Sabres, but that would just be tempting fate. There are over a million known asteroids in the solar system, and any one of them could break orbit at any time, come hurtling toward Earth, and hit Buffalo. And even then, the asteroid would probably be in the goal crease before hitting the back of the Sabres’ net, just for the universe to rub it in a little more.