Captaincy Controversy: Is it Eichel’s time?

The Buffalo Sabres are not going to resign Brian Gionta, it’s pretty much certain at this point. Buffalo’s captain for the last three seasons is still currently a UFA and there have been no reports of the team making him an offer. And, honestly, that’s probably the right move.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Gio. He was my first ever interview in the NHL and the guy truly is a class act. However, at 38, Gionta’s production has decreased sharply over the last few years. I know Buffalo didn’t sign him to lead the team in scoring, but his on-ice contributions were underwhelming even so. His contract commanded more cap space than it really should have and Buffalo can save that for Jack Eichel by not making an offer.

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It appears that Brian Gionta’s career with the Sabres is over.

Gio has done everything in his career. He’s won the Stanley Cup, represented the United States in the Olympics, been the captain of multiple teams, played over 1,000 games and scored over 500 points. I honestly think he should retire with his health intact and be proud of a fine career.

But, that obviously leaves a vacancy in the “C” department. And as a result, Sabres fans have been asking one question; “Is it time to give Eichel the captaincy?” And it may not be as easy a question to answer as you think.

Eichel is without any question the face and future of the Buffalo Sabres. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the team should make him captain just yet. Or does it?

Unfortunately for Jack, the bar was sort of set by the Edmonton Oilers when they made Connor McDavid the second youngest captain in NHL history last October. As incredible a talent as McDavid is, I wasn’t sure at the time how much I agreed with that, though my opinion obviously doesn’t matter because McJesus scored 100 points this year and won the Hart Trophy.

It’s not the same case in Buffalo, though. The Oilers gave McDavid the C because he was really the only potential candidate for it. Buffalo has plenty of guys that could take the duty, including but not limited to Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Jake McCabe. The Sabres do not have no choice but to give it to Jack. There are other candidates if they deem he’s still not ready. But is he ready?

Making a kid the captain of your team has always been a very bold gesture in NHL history. Though officially the only power a captain has is consulting the referees, unofficially he is almost always the leader of the team and a guy that players look to for guidance. I’m not saying that any of the men who were at one point the youngest captain in NHL history did not fit those criteria. Heck, one of them was Sabres Hall of Famer Jim Schoenfeld, and we all know that he was a terrific leader.

Eichel has proven over the last season that he is fully invested in Buffalo and wants to bring winning ways back to KeyBank Center. The now famous outburst he had after the team was embarrassed by the Bruins last December didn’t happen because he’s a petulant whiner. It happened because he wasn’t accepting the team’s terrible play, and that is exactly what you want in a player of his caliber.

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Eichel has had some growing pains, but is ready to step up in Buffalo.

His stellar performance last season is another big argument for Eichel as well. After missing the first two months of the season with a high ankle sprain, Eichel returned with a vengeance and was every bit as good as McDavid was from a points perspective. What’s scary to think is that Jack wasn’t even scratching the surface, you have to believe he could have done much, much more had Dan Bylsma’s system not been holding him back. It will be very interesting to see what he does come October with Phil Housley now at the reigns.

Last year was not a good season for the Sabres at all, however. Regression was all that happened, and it killed virtually all the positive momentum the team built in the 2015-16 season. It was very sobering for Eichel especially, and he did a lot of maturing during it. He’s grown up considerably (not that he was ever temperamental) and is a better player for it.

So should the team do it or not? After assessing it carefully, I think Eichel is ready for the job and has what it takes to be the leader of the Sabres. I vote yes. He would be the sixth youngest captain in NHL history if so, just a bit older than Jonathan Toews was in 2008. If Housley sticks with the one captain, two alternate system that was already in place, here’s who my picks would be.

C- Jack Eichel. A- Ryan O’Reilly, A- Jake McCabe

McCabe is a surprising pick, I know. But I think he possesses the maturity to have the role bestowed upon him.

How brilliant/stupid am I? Be sure to let me know at @Flat_Manigen74.

 

 

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