Buffalo Sabres: Jack Eichel controversy isn’t really one

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Jack Eichel
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 07: Jack Eichel /

The response to Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel returning from injury once more highlights the different perspectives between players, fans and the media.

Buffalo Sabres supporters and sports fans in general can make for an interesting study at times. And the same goes for the media, specifically those who have never played sports to a professional level.

No matter how much statistical analysis dominates the sports scene these days, there are plenty of occasions when it still cannot replace the experience of actually playing the game you are breaking down. One of the most high-profile examples of this, was the wonder goal Dennis Bergkamp scored for Arsenal against Newcastle United, back in 2002:

At the time, plenty of people questioned if Bergkamp actually meant to do what he did. However, the majority of those wondering were fans and media who had never played football, at least to a decent level.

As one of the people who fits this category, I made a point of speaking to several professional footballers and they essentially repeated the same thing. To them, it was clear the Dutchman’s goal was no accident.

The reason for this was because of how Bergkamp reacted after his first touch, specifically the fact he knew where he was going to turn right away. If he hadn’t planned it, he wouldn’t have been able to spin around so quickly, as for a brief second he would have wondered where the ball was going.

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At this point, a lot of you are probably wondering what the heck this has to do with the Buffalo Sabres?! Well, apart from wanting to give you some insight into a professional athlete’s mind, the reason for giving the above example relates to an article on Wednesday about Jack Eichel.

The article is by WGR 550‘s Paul Hamilton and it discusses the apparent controversy surrounding Eichel’s return to the ice. Hamilton writes that many fans have asked him why the center is risking re-injuring his ankle in a season which is effectively over for the Swords?

As with the questions surrounding the Bergkamp goal, this is another example of how most people think differently to athletes. And while there is no issue with discussing these matters, it can show how fans and media don’t always know the score, if they’ve never played the sport in question at a high — or even decent — level, if at all.

In fairness to Hamilton, he actually defends Eichel. However, despite trying his best to explain to fans, he was smart enough to know it would be better if they heard from the player himself:

"“It’s a bit frustrating for myself to get that question from people because it’s a pretty simple answer to be honest with you,” said Eichel to Hamilton. “I’m playing because I’m a hockey player.“It’s kind of ridiculous for someone to think that the fact that we’re out of the playoffs and we don’t have the opportunity to really do anything with our season that I would just pack my year in. It’s not who I am as a person, it’s not who I have ever been and it’s not who I am as a hockey player."

Because of how special Eichel is, Buffalo Sabres fans can sometimes be forgiven for forgetting he’s only 21, and just playing in his third season in the NHL. He still has a lot to learn at this stage, and certain aspects of his development will only be helped by more playing experience.

In addition, it’s boarding on asinine to think the 2015 second overall draft pick would rush back to quickly from injury, in a season where the team will yet again miss the playoffs. If he’s back on the ice, you should have confidence in the medical team that he’s healthy enough to play.

Another factor to consider is Eichel’s mentality. If anything, as he points out himself, the fans would have more reason to be concerned if he did shut it down for the rest of this season:

"“I think there should be a lot more questions asked if I decided that I did want to pack it in and end my season,” he said to Hamilton.“I looked at my rehab process as if I was coming back to compete to try to get into the playoffs, so I tried to put myself in the best position to come back and impact this team in a positive way.”"

This actually ties into another problem professional athletes face from media and fans alike. Essentially, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t; second guessing is just the nature of the beast that is professional sports.

Overall, reading Hamilton’s article gave an interesting insight into Eichel’s rationale, which in turn hopefully helped fans and the media appreciate the mindset of sports stars. In that respect, we’ll leave the final word to the North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native, again speaking to Hamilton:

"“That’s all just part of us building a culture around here and we should all want to be out there every night and that’s important.”"

Next: No repeat of last season for Kyle Okposo

What’s your position on the “controversy” surrounding Eichel’s return to the ice for the Buffalo Sabres? More to the point, do you believe he should have come back from his injury or shut it down for the remainder of the season, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.