The biggest news the Rangers made during the first three days of free agency, which started Wednesday, was the trade late Thursday night to acquire enforcer Ryan Reaves from the Vegas Golden Knights. Reaves signed a one-year contract extension on Saturday – he had been entering the final year of his contract – and that deal should emphatically wrap up GM Chris Drury’s attempts to make the team tougher.
The monster move that fans have been anticipating, however, has not yet happened. The Rangers have not completed a blockbuster trade for disgruntled Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel, whose apparent disgust with the Sabres ratcheted way up late Friday night.
Eichel’s agents, Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, issued a statement on social media late Friday in which they expressed frustration that the Sabres have not yet traded Eichel, and that the team will not allow him to have surgery to repair the herniated disk in his neck.
"The process is not working,’’ the statement read. "As previously stated, we fully anticipated a trade by the start of the NHL free agency period.’’
Eichel missed the final two months of the 2021 season because of the neck, but his frustration with the team’s failure to make the playoffs in the first five seasons of his career had been out there before that.
In May, Eichel spoke of a disconnect between the Sabres and himself on how to treat his injury, and it seemed the two sides were headed for divorce. In their statement, his agents suggested there was a misunderstanding between the two sides.
"After the agreed upon and prescribed period for conservative rehabilitation lapsed in early June 2021, it was determined by the Sabres medical staff that a surgical procedure was required,’’ the statement read. "The recommendation by Jack’s independent neurosurgeon, other spine specialists consulted, and the surgery Jack feels most comfortable having in order to correct a herniated disc in his neck is to proceed with Artificial Disc Replacement surgery.’’
According to the agents, if Eichel were to have the surgery now, he would be ready to play at the start of the 2021-22 season. The surgery they describe has never been done on an NHL player.
On Thursday, Buffalo GM Kevyn Adams had made it clear he felt under no pressure to trade Eichel, who has five years remaining on his contract at a salary cap hit of $10 million.
"If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres… we’d be open to it,’’ Adams said. "We’re not in a position where we feel that we’re just going to do something to do it.’’
The Rangers have been one of the teams most interested in trading for Eichel, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, behind Connor McDavid, in 2015. And several of the other suitors for the 6-2, 213-pound center, who turns 25 in October, appear to have dropped out.
Eichel has scored 139 goals with 355 points in 375 career games, and would stack up with Mika Zibanejad to give the Rangers a formidable 1-2 punch in the middle of their lineup, for a season at least.