BUFFALO, N.Y. (WROC) — In many ways, it was a typical end of season media day. In other ways, it was anything but.
Today, Sabres captain Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart spoke to the Western New York media over zoom, two days after it was officially announced that Buffalo would not be a part of the league’s 24-team return to play plan.
That was the unusual part. The message was the same as in years past.
We’ve been bad for too long, and this has to stop.
“Listen, I’m fed up with the losing and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” said Eichel. “You know, it’s definitely not an easy pill to swallow right now. It’s been a tough couple of months, it’s been a tough five years with where things have went.”
It was a common theme echoed throughout the day.
“Obviously, I think overall the tone of going into an offseason without going into the playoffs is always going to be disappointment, frustration, anger, and those things are normal,” said Jeff Skinner. “Those are normal reactions and now it’s up to us to sort of use those, to feed the energy to get better.”
“I’m definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit’s went and it’s definitely worn on me,” said Eichel.
“I’m a competitor, I want to win every time I’m on the ice, I want to win a Stanley Cup every time I start a season,” Eichel added. “You know, I’ve already started preparing for next season now. I’m already back on the ice, I’m already training, I’m already doing things to try and better myself for the start of next season whenever that is.”
As Rasmus Ristolainen pointed out, it’s time for the Sabres to finally cash in on the potential that fans have been looking forward to.
“Buffalo has a bright future but we’ve been saying ‘the bright future’ for seven years now,” said the Sabres defenseman. “[I’m] not sure when is it?”
“When you put so much hard work every summer, you work hard in every practice, it makes it even more frustrating because we weren’t even close again,” Ristolainen added.
The Sabres finished 25th in the league, one more win could have meant they’d be playing on as the last team in. Eichel said that games getting away was a problem for the team this year, as it has been in the past.
“Our group, we had a lot of lapses whether it be for ten minutes in a game, or a period, or a period-and-a-half, whatever it might be. And it seemed like in those lapses we would kind of hand the game away,” he said. “It would come back to haunt us. The elite teams in the league don’t do that so, you need to find a way to clean that up.”
Eichel admitted that knowing how close they were to qualify for the playoff format makes it sting a little more, but that the goal is to be top-16.
Other than their frustration, the only thing everyone seemed to agree on was with how much everybody liked playing for Ralph Krueger, who just finished up his first season as the Sabres head coach.
“Everyone in the locker room respected him and I think one of the big factors in that was his honesty,” said Sam Reinhart. “He let guys know when, as he’s obviously a positive guy, when there’s something to be said, when guys aren’t playing up to their standard. I can’t think of if there’s one guy in the room that he didn’t have a talk with at some point this year.”
Eichel called Krueger one of the greatest natural-born leaders he’s ever been around.
“It’s been a pleasure working with Ralph. He does so much for our group every day,” he said. “You know, and there are tough times and he does an amazing job of bringing us back in and narrowing our focus and getting us back to where we need to be mentally. And just the few times that I’ve spoken with him throughout this quarantine, it’s been good.”
There are many things that need be addressed before next season starts, whenever it starts. That included whether or not they will trade Ristolainen.
The Finnish defenseman was indecisive when asked whether or not he wanted to be in Buffalo.
“I feel like when the team doesn’t get to the goal that is the playoffs, I think you need to make some changes. And if changes will happen, I know I’m one of the first ones who’s going to get traded. It’s part of the business. I’m ready whatever happens, but I have really enjoyed my time in Buffalo and it’s home for me,” he said.
Whoever is on the team next year will have the weight of the team’s past failures on their shoulders. It will be up to the owners, front office, coaching staff, and players to turn this around.
If they don’t, the frustration that was boiling today might finally erupt.