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What To Expect In Jack Eichel’s Second Return To Buffalo



Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres return Vegas Golden Knights KeyBank Center 3/10/2022
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres return Vegas Golden Knights, KeyBank Center 3/10/2022

Have you ever been out grocery shopping or in public when you see your old boss? It’s awkward, right? Well, I can only imagine that Jack Eichel is having some of these same types of emotions as he gets set for his second reunion with his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, on Thursday night.

The Golden Knights left Toronto last night with an overtime win against the Maple Leafs. For the first time in franchise history, they drove to their next game, making the two-ish hour drive across the border.

Their game against the Sabres will conclude their current five-game road trip. With eight-straight wins, the Golden Knights are on fire and lead the NHL in points. Eichel is riding a six-game point streak.

Jack’s Back

A little over a year ago, Jack Eichel was traded to the Golden Knights after a fallout with the Buffalo Sabres organization. A mixture of disagreements between the health of Eichel and the state of the team caused a rift between the two parties.

“I was hearing a lot of things about how we were going to try and do a rebuild. So I went to the team, and I said that I wasn’t really happy with the idea of that and said if that is the route they wanted to take, then maybe it would be better to move me,” Eichel told Elliotte Friedman.

After six years in Buffalo, Eichel was traded on Nov. 4, 2022. The Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel and a 2023 third-round pick. The Sabres acquired Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a 2022 first-round pick (Noah Ostlund), and a 2023 second-round pick.

Eichel says he continues to have no bitterness toward the Sabres organization or any of the players on the roster, many of which he played with.

“I wish all those guys the best, I feel like I was a part of that organization for a lot of years and made a lot of great relationships. I care about those guys, and I want to see them have success,” Eichel told Mike Harrington.

Revisiting The First Reunion

Eichel is basically echoing what he said before his first return to the Sabres in March of last season. Then, he also said that there were no hard feelings between him and the Sabres. But this seemed to change postgame as Eichel had some choice words for the Sabres’ fanbase, who booed him all night.

“That’s about the loudest I’ve heard this place, ever. It only took seven years and me leaving for them to get into the game… There were plenty of people here supporting me, and there were plenty of people here that were booing me. They must have just been booing me because they wish I were still here,” Eichel said postgame.

The Golden Knights, who at the time were chasing down a playoff spot, lost to the Sabres 3-1. Both Tuch and Krebs fittingly scored for the Sabres in their victory.

What To Expect

So with this in mind, what can we expect during Eichel’s return to Buffalo part two? Eichel himself expects another not-so-warm welcome.

“I’m sure I’ll get a pretty similar reception that I did the last time I was there, and it won’t be very positive. That’s okay, I think I have learned to accept that. Buffalo was a special place for me for a while, and it still is,” Eichel told John Buccigross of ESPN.

The game is being marketed around Eichel’s return, with the 4 p.m. matchup being nationally broadcasted on ESPN and Hulu.

With the Golden Knights and Sabres in two separate divisions and conferences, this will be the only time they play in Buffalo this season unless a strange Stanley Cup Final happens.

Another former Sabre, Will Carrier, says he hopes Eichel can feed off the negative energy.

“Last year in Buffalo, he got booed every time he touched the puck, and hopefully, he feeds off that. They have a good team right now. I hope they can focus on the future. The future is bright for them,” said Carrier.

Not The First

Not only is this not the first time Eichel has returned to Buffalo, but he’s also not the first player to deal with this. Bad breakups between NHL teams and players have been a thing since even before Ted Lindsay and the Detroit Red Wings in the 1950s. It’s just part of the game/business, unfortunately.

The most notable recent example of a fanbase giving it to one of their former players was the New York Islanders fanbase with John Tavares. After nine years with the Islanders, Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in Free Agency 2018, and Islanders fans were furious.

“I think whenever there is a bad breakup in sports, and a player goes somewhere else, the fanbase is always a bit upset about that. I think it just means they cared for you a lot, and they are upset you are not there anymore,” Eichel told Buccigross.

We will likely see this again on Jan. 23rd when Johnny Gaudreau and the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Calgary Flames. Gaudreau similarly left the Flames for the Blue Jackets in free agency 2022.

As for Eichel and the Golden Knights, the focus will be to continue winning. Pushing aside all the noise with his return is likely the gameplan for Eichel Thursday night.