Bruins’ Grzelcyk feels for Eichel: ‘He wants to win more than anything’

Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel (9). (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Matt Grzelcyk is that rare NHLer who knows what it’s likes to be on the ice with Jack Eichel winning.

Close friends groomed through the Massachusetts system and U.S. National Development Team, Grzelcyk and Eichel tore up Hockey East as teammates on the 2014-15 Boston University squad and have remained in each other’s corner since.

Hearing Eichel vent his anger after another lost season in Buffalo has spurred Grzelcyk to evaluate his own fortunes — and be thankful the draft kept him in Boston, where qualifying for the post-season is routine.

"It certainly makes you look inward and realize how grateful I am for the opportunity to play for such a great organization," the Bruins’ 26-year-old defenceman said Tuesday on a Zoom conference.

"We have such good leaders and such good veterans and guys who have been there before and know what it requires to get the job done. I’m so blessed to be on this team, and I think that going through the experiences in the playoffs just helps you grow each and every season."

There’s the rub.

Eichel may only be 23, but the Sabres’ superstar centre has played five full seasons in the show without a single playoff game on his resume. Despite the NHL including 24 teams in its return-to-play plan this summer — and Eichel performing at a level worthy of Hart Trophy consideration — the Sabres finished outside the cut-off line and, last week, fired GM Jason Botterill.

Under owners Kim and Terry Pegula, the Sabres have the longest active playoff drought in the NHL (nine years), fired 20-plus staff members last week, and have vowed to run their business leaner and more economical.

Eichel, meanwhile, has publicly asked to be surrounded by stronger veterans, clearly laying out his desire to win now.

"Listen, I’m fed up with losing, and I’m fed up and I’m frustrated,” Eichel said during Buffalo’s annual end-of-season airing of the grievances. "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.

"I’m definitely not in the greatest place with where the last little bit went, and it’s definitely worn on me."

Grzelcyk came within 60 minutes of hoisting the Stanley Cup on home ice a year ago. He empathizes with his friend.

So much so, Grzelcyk has chosen not to bother Eichel right now, figuring he’s getting bombarded with "texts left and right" about the latest Sabres overhaul.

"I know Jack is quite antsy to get into a playoff picture and play in those important games and really shine in those big moments. I hope that he can reach that goal soon, and we could see his full potential," Grzelcyk said.

"It’s a tough situation, especially for Jack. He is one of my good friends, and I know firsthand how competitive he is and how much he just wants to win more than anything. He’s not really concerned with individual accolades or anything like that. He’s aware that you have the most fun at the rink when you’re winning. So, it’s for sure very frustrating for him."

Eichel has six more seasons on his contract with the Sabres that pays him $10 million annually. He’s due to cash a $7.5-million signing bonus next week.

“I like the anger,” coach Ralph Krueger said of Eichel’s comments. “I have no problem with people outing frustration on the past. But then let’s move that conversation forward, real quick, and let’s figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

New Sabres GM Kevyn Adams made a point of calling his captain the same morning he was hired as Botterill’s replacement.

"Had a great call with Jack [last Tuesday] just to start to talk to him a little bit," Adams said. "I’m going to start talking to all our players."

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.