Looking back, last year was something of a false start for the Sabres. Jack Eichel’s injury dampened the first half of the season and Tim Murray wasn’t willing or able to move enough pieces to shore up the blueline.
What was originally thought of as a coming out party became a regression and a practice in further patience with the rebuilding process.
This season feels different.
Maybe it’s the shine of a new coach and general manager combo. Phil Housley is pushing an uptempo style of play and Jason Botterill hasn’t been shy about reshaping the roster – especially on the blueline. But what has really stoked excitement for the start of the season was locking up Jack Eichel for eight more years.
Getting Eichel’s contract done will erase every take about potential distractions and his desire to play in Boston. More importantly, it ensures that Eichel’s prime years will be spent in the Nickel City.
Maybe it’s the Buffalo inferiority complex at play, but sometimes it seems like Eichel isn’t appreciated as the talisman that he is for this franchise. Not so much from a national perspective, but locally. Nevermind the process that it took to get him, but simply his impact on the ice; his ability to drive play even with two wet paper bags as linemates is something Sabres fans haven’t seen since Gilbert Perreault played. Yet, sometimes I feel like fans see him as just another piece of the puzzle and not the cornerstone that he is.
Eichel is an electrifying talent. He’s played little more than a season-and-a-half and his highlight reel is already astounding. He’s everything we’ve hoped the Sabres would find while also being the antitheses of what’s defined this team for so long. He’s the most exciting player to don a Sabres sweater in a decade (two decades? Three?) and should things go as expected, he may just go down as the most exciting player in franchise history.
The desire for gritty, hard-working, blue-collar players has grown to mythical proportions with the Buffalo fan base. Our greatest stars have almost always occupied the crease and despite being blessed by the greatest player to ever play the position, the Sabres never had the skaters to fully compliment the limitless talent Dominik Hasek offered.
In a way, it’s refreshing just to know that the Sabres aren’t simply building from the net out. This team is going to be led from the front and it’s going to be done by a dynamic talent well worth the trouble it took to get him. The pieces around him continue to fall into place and it truly feels like the Sabres are ready to stop the suffering and start winning.
Here we go.