With the Buffalo Sabres’ playoff drought stretching into its ninth season, team captain Jack Eichel is making his frustrations clear.
Eichel, 23, has missed the playoffs in each of his five NHL seasons, beginning with his rookie year of 2015-16. The drought continues despite steady statistical improvement by the forward, who finished this season with 78 points (career-high 36 goals, 42 assists) in just 68 games.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, he made it clear that he is not happy with the team’s continued struggles.
“Listen, I’m fed up with losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” he said. “It’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months, it’s been a tough five years with where things have went.”
The Sabres thought that Eichel would help turn their fortunes around when they selected him second overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. Their current playoff drought is more than twice as long as the next-longest active streak, four years for the Detroit Red Wings. That lack of success has clearly started to affect Eichel.
“I’m a competitor,” he said. “I want to win every time I go out on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season . . . I’d be lying if I said that I’m not getting frustrated with where things are going.”
Eichel, however, also believes the team made progress this season despite finishing with a 30-31-8 record. It was the franchise’s seventh consecutive losing season.
“I think we took a step this year,” he said. “I will say it’s been a pleasure working with (Sabres coach) Ralph (Krueger) and he does so much for our group every day. There are tough times and he does an amazing job of bringing us back in and narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally. The few times I’ve spoken with him during this (COVID-19) quarantine, it’s been good. But yeah, I’m definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit went and it’s definitely worn on me.”
While the NHL — minus the Sabres and six other teams — moves ahead with a 24-team modified playoff format, Eichel says he has already started getting ready for next season, which he’s hoping isn’t another lost one in Buffalo.
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