Sabres focused on future, changing culture following Eichel trade

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The Buffalo Sabres have traded three expected core players since last season, including center Jack Eichel, who was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, but coach Don Granato doesn’t want his young players to try and fill the void on their own.

“Nobody has to come in here and be a savior,” Granato said. “Maybe that’s been the challenge of the past but, moving forward, that’s what I would say in light of today.”

Granato’s emphasis on any potential success being a group effort for the Sabres moving forward symbolized the mandate of a team that is ready to start a new chapter after trading Eichel, forward Sam Reinhart and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen in the past four months.

The Sabres (5-3-1) play their first game since the Eichel trade at the Seattle Kraken on Thursday (10 p.m. ET; ROOT-NW, MSG-B, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

All three players had publicly expressed frustration at the prospect of a rebuild and had each mentioned a change of scenery might be in order. General manager Kevyn Adams said the Sabres are seeking players who want to be in Buffalo and said he recently stressed that point to Eichel.

“I was very clear to him that we need to build this organization with people that are dying to be Buffalo Sabres, that care so much about that jersey they’re going to put on, and that’s how we have to move on,” Adams said. “It’s nothing personal.”

Eichel, Reinhart and Ristolainen formed the core of the Sabres dating to 2015 when Eichel was selected with the second pick in the NHL Draft behind Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. But the fact Buffalo has not reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011 took its toll on them and led to their desire to go elsewhere.

In all three instances the Sabres were able to bring back draft capital, prospects and players who want to play in Buffalo.

“This is about the long term and about building this and about developing this the right way,” Adams said. “And that’s how we’re looking at it.”

The Sabres took yet another step in that direction by acquiring forward Alex Tuch, highly regarded forward prospect Peyton Krebs, a top 10 protected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft for Eichel and a third-round pick in the 2023 draft.

In an interview with ESPN after the trade, Eichel said he hopes loyal Sabres fans get a winning team.

“I can’t say enough good things about the fans here (in Buffalo),” Eichel said. “They love hockey. They deserve a winner. You know what? I feel bad that I wasn’t able to contribute more to winning here, but they deserve it all.”

The 25-year-old has scored 355 points (139 goals, 216 assists) in 375 NHL games. He scored at least 24 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons, including a career-high 36 in 2019-20.

Ristolainen was traded to the to the Philadelphia Flyers on July 23 for a first-round pick (No. 14) in the 2021 NHL Draft, which was used to select forward Isak Rosen. Buffalo also received a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. 

One day later, Reinhart was traded to the Florida Panthers for goalie prospect Devon Levi and a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Selected by Buffalo with the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, the 25-year-old scored 295 points (134 goals, 161 assists) in 454 NHL games with the Sabres.

Krebs, 20, joins an impressive cast of Sabres players and prospects 22-years-old and under, that includes Rosen, 18, forwards Dylan Cozens, 20, and Casey Mittelstadt, 22, and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 21. Owen Power, the 18-year-old defenseman who Buffalo selected No. 1 in the 2021 NHL Draft, has scored eight points (two goals, six assists) in eight games with the University of Michigan this season.

The addition of Tuch meets Adams’ requirement of a player who wants to be with the Sabres. The 25-year-old who grew up 150 miles east of Buffalo in Syracuse, expressed his excitement at coming back to western New York.

“Now I want to say how excited I am to be a part of the Buffalo Sabres organization,” Tuch tweeted on Thursday. “Being from Upstate NY, it’s been a dream of mine to put on the Sabres jersey. Thank you Buffalo and I can’t wait to get started!”

Tuch, who hasn’t played this season after having shoulder surgery, is expected to be out another couple of months, Adams said. The first-round pick (No. 18) by the Minnesota Wild in the 2014 NHL Draft has scored 139 points (61 goals, 78 assists) in 255 regular-season games for the Wild and Golden Knights, and 33 points (19 goals, 14 assists) in 66 postseason games.

Tuch’s affection for the Sabres was symbolized in his rookie season when he played in Buffalo for the first time as in the NHL on March 10, 2018. The Golden Knights won 2-1 in a shootout in front of an entourage of family and friends that Tuch estimated numbered somewhere around 400.

“I was a Sabres fan growing up, I lived next to (former Buffalo center) Tim Connolly,” Tuch said at the time. “My parents and his parents still live next to each other. I watched him a lot. The Sabres were my team.”

The same team he now belongs to.

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