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The contentious saga between the Buffalo Sabres and center Jack Eichel ended after the Vegas Golden Knights traded for the 25-year-old on Thursday. It was the conclusion of a rift that began quietly last spring and grew to be anything but over the following months. Eichel traded public shots with the Sabres over his injury recovery, as the former No. 2 overall pick wanted to undergo one surgery while his team — which has final say under the NHL‘s collective bargaining agreement — hoped he’d get a different procedure done. Here’s a chronological look at how it all went down.  

March 7 — Eichel injures neck

Eichel herniated a disk in his neck during a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders. He was originally slated to miss 7-10 days, a timeline that quickly proved to be unrealistic. The Sabres lost their seventh consecutive game that night and eventually lost 18 straight.  

March 11-12 — Independent doctor visit

Days after his injury, Eichel traveled to an independent specialist to determine its severity. Eichel’s doctors suggested a surgical procedure no NHL player has undergone before: artificial disk replacement. 

March 13 — Eichel’s recovery timeline becomes murky

Sabres coach Ralph Krueger announced Eichel would remain out for the “foreseeable future.” While Krueger said the injury didn’t seem to be season-ending, he declined to give an updated recovery timeline. 

“An injury of this nature needs more assessment and more time to understand it,” Krueger said. “We just know that it will be some time here from shorter all the way to what you’ve already mentioned (season-ending), but it’s somewhere in between that.”

April 14 — Sabres rule Eichel out for season

Buffalo announced Eichel’s neck injury would force him to miss the rest of the 2020-21 season but maintained he’d be ready to return by the 2021-22 campaign. Eichel ended the year with a career-low 18 points (two goals, 16 assists) over 21 games. 

April 15 — No surgery for Eichel just yet

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Eichel would continue rehabbing until a May reevaluation, holding off surgery for the time being. At that point the Sabres hoped Eichel’s disc would move back into place on its own with enough rehab. 

May 10 — Eichel’s reevaluation

Eichel’s reevaluation determined he still needed surgery, but the player and team disagreed over which one. Buffalo requested Eichel undergo fusion surgery while Eichel wanted an artificial disk replacement procedure. The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement gives teams final authority over their players’ injury recoveries, and the Sabres used that power to decline Eichel’s desired surgery. Eichel decried his team’s decision shortly after. 

“I’d be lying to say that things have moved smoothly since my injury,” Eichel said. “There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. It’s been tough at times. The most important thing now is to try to get healthy, figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”

July 30 — Eichel’s lawyers release critical statement

Peter Fish and Peter Donatelli, Eichel’s lawyers, said Buffalo’s reluctance to allow Eichel his desired surgery is “stopping Jack from playing in the NHL and it is not working.” The statement aimed to give Eichel control over a situation his team didn’t “feel any pressure” over. 

“What’s critically important is to make sure … that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said before the lawyers’ statement. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.”

Sept. 23 — Failed physical, stripped captaincy

Adams announced Eichel failed his physical and would begin the 2021-22 season on injured reserve because he “will not accept Sabres’ desire for fusion surgery.” Buffalo also stripped Eichel of the captaincy he held since the 2018-19 season, when he posted a career-high 82 points (28 goals, 54 assists). 

“I feel the captain is the heartbeat of your team,” Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said. “I felt we needed to address that.”

Oct. 21 — Eichel makes final medical case to Sabres

According to ESPN, Eichel made a final plea to Buffalo over his surgical preference as his trade market grew “quiet.” It was the last chance for Buffalo to retain its star center, but the team held its ground by refusing Eichel’s artificial disk replacement. 

Nov. 2 — Finalists emerge for Eichel

The Calgary Flames and Golden Knights emerged as the finalists for Eichel, per ESPN, but neither met Adams’ initial asking price of four first-round picks. Both teams said they’d allow Eichel to get his desired surgery. 

Nov. 4 — Vegas acquires Eichel; Eichel’s surgery confirmed

Buffalo traded Eichel to Vegas for center Peyton Krebs, winger Alex Tuch, a 2022 first-round pick and a 2023 third-round pick. Both Krebs and Tuck were first-round draft selections, with the former going 17th overall in 2019 and the latter going 18th in 2014. 

Soon after acquiring Eichel, Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon announced the former Sabres captain had the team’s permission to get his artificial disc replacement surgery. According to ESPN, the surgery could happen the same week as the trade. TSN reported Eichel is expected to miss four months after his surgery, meaning he could potentially return for a Golden Knights playoff run.

Vegas’ new center has five years and $50 million left on the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed in 2017. Over his seven-year NHL career, Eichel has scored 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) over 375 games.