BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Former Sabres star Jack Eichel said Wednesday that he feels no hard feelings toward the franchise or the city as he prepares for his first game as a visiting player in Buffalo on Thursday night.
Eichel added that he has no bitterness in him — “none whatsoever” — and no second guesses about how he handled his medical situation. But there was one small regret that Eichel brought up on his own: He wished the team had won for longtime employees like broadcaster Rick Jeanneret, who is retiring after the season.
“There’s some amazing people that work for the Sabres organization, and those are the people you want to have success for,” Eichel said. “You look at a guy like RJ, there’s not a lot of better people that you’re going to come across. He’s been doing this forever. When you think of the Sabres, you kind of think of him. You just wish you had more success for people like that that have been here through everything; some of the equipment guys, some of the guys that have worked for the team, these are the guys that wear the Buffalo Sabres on their sleeve. As a team, I think every year we wished we had more success.”
The Sabres did not make the playoffs once during Eichel’s tenure and are on pace to break the NHL record this year for consecutive seasons missing the playoffs. Eichel has three goals and four assists in 10 games since his return from neck surgery while the Golden Knights sit in playoff position in the Western Conference.
“It’s definitely strange,” Eichel said of his return to KeyBank Center, “but I’m not the first guy to get traded and go to another team and go back to the team they were at. It’s a little awkward walking in here going to the visitors room but other guys have done it, so it’s business as always.
“I’ve had a lot of great memories in this building,” he added. “Whenever you come into a place like that, you automatically start trickling down memory lane.”
Eichel was asked what kind of reception he thought he might get from fans.
“You obviously have those thoughts, you think about what sort of reception you’re going to get,” he said. “But I can’t control that. I feel like I gave everything I had while I was here in my time in Buffalo, to the organization and to the community, so I’m at peace with all that. So whatever the reception is, I’ll be able to handle it. It’s hockey, when the puck drops and you get a shift under your belt I think it just becomes a game.”
In regard to his medical situation — Eichel and the team disagreed on the surgical procedure that was best for his neck, and the Golden Knights let him have the surgery he wanted — Eichel said he hopes history views him favorably for having success with a procedure the team didn’t necessarily agree with.
“Obviously things didn’t end as good as we would’ve liked, but like I said earlier I don’t have any hard feelings toward anyone,” Eichel said. “The Pegulas, I have no hard feelings toward anyone. At the end of the day it is a business and the team … stuck by their doctors’ opinions and I respect them for that and I hope people can respect me for standing by what I believed in and what I thought was right for myself. I hope that me being back playing and being healthy, I hope that can be an example of somebody sticking by what they believe in and having a successful outcome.”
Eichel ranks 18th in Sabres history with 355 points. He signed an eight-year, $80 million extension in 2017 that made him the highest-paid player in franchise history.
“No bitterness,” Eichel said. “None whatsoever. I had a phenomenal time here in Buffalo, lived out a childhood dream playing my first NHL game. The organization, the city was nothing but great to me and my family.”
Thursday’s game begins at 7 p.m. It is only being broadcast through ESPN+ and Hulu.
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Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here.