Photo Credit: Buffalo Hockey Beat
If you are unaware of the Jack Eichel medical and trade rumors it is not surprising. The Buffalo Sabres have tried to keep his medical controversy out of the public eye. On March 7, 2021, in a game against the New York Islanders, Eichel took a hit that would ultimately end his season. Following the hit Eichel was examined by team doctors and diagnosed with a herniated disc. While the injury ended his season, how to treat the injury is caused the most trouble.
The Sabres organization originally recommended a 12-week rehab, but Eichel sought a second opinion. Sections 32-50 of Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) lays out the Medical – Legal Issues of the agreement. Section 34 Second Medical Opinion List – Selection and Removal is applicable in Eichel’s situation. Attachment C of Section 34 says; “A Player may seek a second medical opinion regarding a diagnosis made by a team physician or a course of treatment (including the timing thereof) prescribed by a team physician ("Second Medical Opinion") from a list of medical specialists with outstanding reputations and experience in their area of expertise...”. Under terms of the CBA, teams control the medical decisions made for their players. The surgery that Eichel is requesting is an artificial disk replacement surgery, which has never been performed on an NHL player. The disk replacement surgery, which would have him sidelined for six weeks and carries a much lower risk that the Eichel would need future surgeries. The Sabres want him to have a standard fusion procedure, which Eichel refused. The fusion surgery would have Eichel back on the ice in six months.
In the off-season trade rumors began to fly about whether Eichel would be traded and to who. The complicated part of this situation was that the Sabres were limiting teams access to Eichel’s medical records unless the trade was serious. The off season came and went and Eichel was not traded nor was his medical issues addressed. The Sabres and Eichel did meet with the NHL and NHLPA in the off-season to resolve the issue but ultimately no solution came about. Eichel did however change his representation from Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli of Global Hockey Consultants to Pat Brisson of Creative Artists Agency. The change in agents seems to suggest that maybe Eichel was unhappy with the events of the offseason. The question that was on everyone’s mind, would Eichel play in the 2021-22 season?
Training camp rolled around and with that came Eichel’s physical examination with the Sabres. Eichel failed his physical, was stripped of his captaincy and will be placed on the injury reserve for the start of the season. Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said "To this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with the fusion surgery that our doctors are suggesting. So, we're going to continue to work towards solutions." Based on that statement from Adams it seems unclear whether Eichel will be cleared to play this season.
However, Eichel’s agent seems positive that a trade can be facilitated. In a statement Brisson confirmed there are teams willing to let Eichel to go through with alternative dispute resolution. This issue has not gone unnoticed by Commissioner Bettman. In a statement the Commissioner said "It's a terrible situation. I don't think it's fair to point the finger at anybody in terms of who's right and wrong. I think everybody's approaching this with the best intentions and that the injury is complex both in its diagnosis and its treatment and I think people need to be a little more patient."
With the season beginning with week, it will be interesting to see if Eichel will get the surgery he wants or be traded to a new team.
Collective Bargaining Agreement, The PA | NHLPA.com, www.nhlpa.com/the-pa/cba.  Id.  Harrington, M. (2021, Oct. 4). NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Sabres/eichel dispute: 'it's a terrible situation'. The Buffalo News. https://buffalonews.com/sports/sabres/nhl-commissioner-gary-bettman-on-sabres-eichel-dispute-its-a-terrible-situation/article_ac92b5b2-253b-11ec-842c-ab88ac28561f.html.  Staff, S. (2021, October 4). Gary Bettman speaks on Robin Lehner tweets, Jack Eichel situation. Sportsnet.ca. https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/gary-bettman-speaks-robin-lehner-tweets-jack-eichel-situation/.  Wyshynski, G. (2021, Sept. 23). Buffalo Sabres Center jack eichel fails physical, stripped of captaincy. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/32262693/buffalo-sabres-center-jack-eichel-fails-physical-stripped-captaincy.  Id.  Johnston, M. (2021, October 7). Jack Eichel's new agent Pat Brisson updates latest on Sabres Star. Sportsnet.ca. https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/jack-eichels-new-agent-pat-brisson-updates-latest-sabres-star/.  Staff, S. (2021, October 4). Gary Bettman speaks on Robin Lehner tweets, Jack Eichel situation. Sportsnet.ca. Retrieved https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/gary-bettman-speaks-robin-lehner-tweets-jack-eichel-situation/.