It’s been a long road for Jack Eichel, but there is finally a resolution. On Thursday he was traded to the Golden Knights in a three-player, multi-draft pick deal that not only saw him swap his jersey but will also allow him to get the surgery he needs.
“Since I got hurt, it’s been, I don’t know, it just seems like things haven’t really went my way — and that’s fine,” Eichel told ESPN’s “The Point” host John Buccigross. “People deal with adversity and this is no different. It’s just, it’s definitely been a long process, kind of dragged out … and just a lot of drama that you don’t really want to deal with. But I guess you just learn to and I’m just happy to be on the other side of it.”
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Eichel was diagnosed with a herniated disk after hitting his head on the boards against the Islanders on March 7. According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniation occurs when one of the rubbery cushions (the disk) in the spine ruptures or tears and the nucleus pushes out. The herniated disk can then impact the nerves nearby, resulting in pain, numbness or weakness in an arm.
After the neck injury did not respond to conservative measures, Eichel and his team opted for surgery; thus began a months-long back-and-forth with the Sabres on which procedure to have. The Sabres preferred treatment was anterior cervical discectomy, which usually involves removing the impacted disk and fusion (ACDF) by placing a bone graft where the disc was. The surgery Eichel wants — reiterating on the show that he’s done the research and it’s superior in his case — is artificial disk replacement (ADR). It does not involve fusion and, instead, an artificial disk is placed between the two cervical vertebrae. While ACDF is more common and, according to spine-health.com, the “gold standard,” studies do show artificial disk replacement surgery provides more mobility. However, it hasn’t been done on an NHL player before.
The issue at hand was, per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, that teams have the final say on the treatment of injuries.
“He will have surgery. He will have the ADR, which is artificial disc replacement,” Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said when speaking with the media. “It’s unique in relation to NHL players; it’s not necessarily that unique in terms of society.”
Added McCrimmon later: “Why wouldn’t his people want what’s best for him? None of us in this room have the level of expertise that would be required for an opinion. I defer to the people that he’s entrusted himself and his health to, to make that decision.”
Eichel, who was drafted second overall by the Sabres in 2015 and scored 355 points in 375 career games, now heads west from the only organization he’s known. He was asked by Buccigross whether, had he been allowed to get the procedure he wanted, he’d still be a Sabre.
“I’m not sure about that. I had expressed to them that I wanted to get this operation done last spring and they weren’t comfortable with it,” he said, noting some details regarding the when and where for the surgery are still being ironed out. “I understand that there’s no NHL player that’s done it but, you know, with that being said, I feel like it’s the best opportunity for me and I really appreciate the Vegas Golden Knights organization giving me the opportunity to move forward with what I want to do and just get back to playing hockey and doing what I love.”
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The biggest question now is the timetable. When will Eichel actually be able to suit up and play for Vegas … or maybe Team USA?
“I’d love to play in the Olympics for sure. It’s a goal of mine. I think it’s a goal of every player. With that being said, I think you’ve got to start with some short-term goals first and foremost. Just want to get my surgery and put that behind me. Most operations, it’s about a three-month recovery, so that’s sort of what I’m looking at now.”
Well, roughly three months from now, the United States will hit the ice in Beijing.